By Kasy Long
Mar 16, 2023
Valerie Craig invites everyone to feel right at home at Indiana State University. As assistant director of the University’s Charles E. Brown African American Cultural Center [AACC], she supports students in their personal and professional goals, and this helps them succeed inside and outside the classroom.
Founded in 1972, the AACC encourages students to become involved in creating and innovating cultural programs on campus. Through these programs, as well as through academic support, community involvement and professional development resources, students become immersed in cultural awareness.
“The AACC is a safe space for all students – not just our Black students but all students. They can ask questions and learn more about culture. The center is open to anyone who wants to learn,” Craig says.
The assistant director describes the AACC as a museum on Indiana State’s campus – located at 301 North 8th Street. The center has conference rooms and classrooms for community meetings and education, as well as a library with books on African American history, biographies, women’s history [relating to African American history], poetry, and other cultural and sociological topics.
“The AACC works with people from all across campus. We create programs and plan events to strengthen our community engagement,” Craig shares.
Craig knows Indiana State’s history because she grew up at the University. Her uncle, Julius Williams, was the first assistant director of the AACC – now Craig holds that position. In addition, her aunt, Gloria Washington Wise, was one of the first female African American directors of Sycamore Towers, one of the University’s Residential Life housing options.
“I grew up here. From the moment I came to Terre Haute as a child, I have been connected to Indiana State,” she says.
When it was time to pursue an undergraduate degree, it was an easy decision: Craig would continue the family legacy and become a Sycamore. In 2003, she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in African and African American studies. Then, in 2010, she completed a master’s degree in student affairs and higher education.
“My introduction to the world of Black culture was through my first class at Indiana State,” Craig says. She studied the autobiographies of human rights activist Malcolm X and other influential figures in African American history. “The light was turned on and it’s stayed on ever since. Indiana State has made me an activist.”
Through her leadership within the AACC, Craig assists with academic support, retention, and mentorship programs, including the Mentoring Assistance for Prospective Scholars [MAPS], Indiana State’s collegiate chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP], Brotherhood of Successful Scholars [BOSS], Black Student Union, and ISUcceed, an academic program that helps freshmen as they transition from high school to college. Craig assists students as they navigate Indiana State for the first time.
“Mentoring students is my calling. It’s what I’m meant to do,” Craig explains. “It’s important for me to help students however I can. You should support those who support you. Our students help the AACC by participating in events and being here, so I’m right there to support them in return.”
Craig credits the AACC’s current director, Tiffany Reed, PhD, with keeping history and cultural events relevant to today’s Sycamores. Craig joins Reed, and the center’s administrative assistant, Julia Bruce, on leading and coordinating events and programs to help strengthen students’ confidence.
“There are three generations of women leading the AACC. We work together. We can teach our students more about African American studies that extend beyond Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali, if you take a chance on us,” Craig says.
When Craig is not mentoring students, she writes poetry to “write things from my head to my heart,” as she explains. Craig has been writing poetry since 2006 as a form of creative expression. One poem, “The Song of Sisters,” rejects the notion of a “strong Black woman.”
“If I allow you to call me a strong Black woman, then that gives you permission to dismiss my pain. I have the right to be soft. The poem speaks to that conversation. It speaks to my pain and how I feel as a Black woman,” she reflects.
Whether she’s mentoring students, educating others about the past, or reflecting on ideas in her poetry, Valerie Craig finds a way to inspire the next generation of Sycamores. Because real influential leaders wear BLUE!