Union Spotlight on Dillard Student Union at Dillard University
Four-year, private, religious-affiliated, historically black university
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
DILLARD STUDENT UNION
Year Built: 2012
Size: 60,000 sq. ft.
Director: Courtney E. Williams
Student Staff: 35 part-time
Nonstudent Staff: 3 full-time
If a search went on for a student union that was the be-all, end-all facility for a community, you’d likely arrive at the Dillard Student Union in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. Of course there are the staples: food court, games room, student engagement office, career and professional development center, meeting rooms, and even a movie theater and bowling center. Still fresh with a 2012 grand opening date, the union is breaking new ground in the programming arena with some other student and community services.
There’s a tiered leadership development program that begins with emerging leaders, progresses to an advanced leadership program, and then expands into a for-credit leadership course through academic affairs. Supporting the career and professional development program is SWAG (Styled With Ambition and Goals), a free of charge consignment store where students can find professional clothing. The union is also a health and wellness center, offering an indoor track and fitness center, a student health and wellness department, and a medical clinic that serves the local community with low-cost health services.
“Our office includes a holistic approach to student involvement, so we not only offer traditional student activities and leadership, but we also have incorporated campus recreation, fitness and wellness programs, and community service,” said director Courtney Williams. “And we’re able to do all this with a small staff and student interns.”
Students not only staff union operations, they also work in marketing and communications, serve as peer involvement advisors, and assist with scheduling and reservations for the community, which can rent union and recreational spaces and purchase fitness center memberships. A Title III grant and student fees are the primary sources of operating funds, but additional revenue is generated through those rental and membership fees. The building is yet to reach 10 years old, but Williams said there’s been a least one improvement since then, and a realization that if more space were available, it would be put to use.
“We’d love to expand our multipurpose room. The space can hold about 220 people, but as our programs grow we’d love to be able to accommodate more,” he said. “We also would like to add on a new recreational space that could accommodate more fitness and wellness classes.”
A games room that doubles as a commuter lounge was added in 2017 and is now recognized as a premium gathering spot, offering billiards, air hockey, gaming equipment, and plenty of additional space for students to relax or study. Competition is a good thing, which is why the union has also seen success with an outdoor adventure program that offers kayaking and rock-climbing, and regular Friday night movie and live performance series.
Later this year the union will host a regional Human Rights Campaign HBCU conference on the topic of inclusivity and LGBTQ+ students. In 2017 Dillard formed an LGBTQ+ presidential task force after students attended a Human Rights Campaign student leadership conference, and last year the university created a “sex week” that focused on sexuality and awareness surrounding the LGBTQ+ community.
“The conference will be open to students from HBCUs across the south and will provide training on working with inclusion, as well as with trans students,” Williams said.