Meet Karlene Burrell-McRae,
New Black Cultural Center Director
by Alisa Giardinelli
On a warm Friday afternoon earlier this month, students, faculty, and staff members packed the Black Cultural Center (BCC) for food, conversation, and some encouraging words to help kick off the academic year. Assistant Dean Karlene Burrell-McRae, the BCC's new director, stood at the center of the action and encouraged those gathered to learn from and support each other. In keeping with the barbecue party atmosphere, she also added another important message: "And there will be dancing!"
"What I want students to know," she said later, "is that their strength comes from asking for help. They don't have to take this journey alone. We are here to support, encourage, engage, challenge, and celebrate their presence and contributions. I also want them to know that the BCC is a welcoming place for every member of the Swarthmore community."
Burrell-McRae, who describes herself as a community builder and collaborator, says she hopes to remind students that their journey has just begun. "Swarthmore students are dedicated, passionate, and eager to make a difference," she says. "I want them to acknowledge the privilege of their Swarthmore education as they continue to think critically and creatively about their individual responsibilities to give back."
As BCC director, Burrell-McRae provides leadership and coordinates all aspects of the Black Cultural Center and its mission. She advises the Swarthmore African Student Society, Students of Caribbean Ancestry, and Swarthmore African Students Association. In addition, she facilitates collaborative relationships and programming with faculty, alumni, campus offices, student organizations, and the surrounding community in ways that support the creation of a diverse and inclusive community. She is also "extremely thrilled" with her responsibilities as the dean of the junior class.
Previously, Burrell-McRae was founding director of Makuu: Black Cultural Center under the Division of University Life at the University of Pennsylvania. She has a Ed.D in higher education with distinction, an M.S.W. in administration and planning, and M.S.Ed. degree in intercultural communication.
"Swarthmore is the epitome of a caring community," she says. "People have been open, honest and have made every effort to connect with me, not just as a colleague but also as a friend. They all want me to succeed. Their encouragement makes me excited to add my contributions to the already beautifully woven fabric created by all who make up this community."