UT-Austin community members say new John Chase building is a step in the right direction

Marisa Huerta, News Reporter

A historic building designed by Texas’s first licensed Black architect, John S. Chase, will open to serve the Black UT-Austin community following a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday.

Chase attended UT in the 1950s and was the first Black student to graduate from the School of Architecture. The building, which was built in 1952 and purchased by the University in 2018, will be used to provide resources like grant writing and community advocacy for Black students, according to the Center for Community Engagement.

“When a university names a building after someone, it is saying, ‘This is a person who belongs here; this is an honored member of our community,’” public affairs professor Edwin Dorn said. “When all of its buildings are named after white men, the University is sending a message of exclusion. By naming a building after John and Drucie, UT is saying that the Chases and people like them also belong here.”

Dorn said he knew Chase personally and met him when he returned to Texas to become Dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs in 1997. John and his wife, Drucie, hosted a reception in his honor at their home in Houston, Dorn said.

“John served as president of the Texas Exes in the late 1990s, and I suspect that he played a role in my selection as a Distinguished Alumnus,” Dorn said. “He was a generous man who used his success to uplift others and Drucie was his gracious partner for more than 60 years.”

Dorn said Chase’s recognition is well-deserved considering the struggles Chase faced as a Black student during the Jim Crow era. John passed away in 2012 at age 87, and Drucie passed away in January.

“His generous spirit enabled him to give back far more than he ever received from the University,” Dorn said.

The building will house community resources like Front Porch Gatherings and The Community Classroom, according to Jessica Sinn, managing editor of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement’s magazine, Access.

“The Chase Building will be UT’s ‘front porch,’” Sinn said. “This space reaffirms our commitment to our neighbors, students and faculty by offering a gathering spot off the Forty Acres.”

Zion Stewart, an African and African Diaspora Studies senior, said it is important for the University to create safe spaces for Black students to gather.

“We already have the Malcolm X Lounge on campus, which is very much utilized, so opening up more spaces (off campus) would be very beneficial to Black students,” Stewart said.

Muhammad Muhdhar, a government senior and former co-director of UT’s Black President’s Leadership Council, said the University celebrating the contributions of Black leaders and naming buildings after them is a step in the right direction.

“I think for Black people, seeing someone that looks like you being commemorated by a prestigious university is always a big deal,” Muhdhar said. “I would definitely like to see more of these types of projects.”