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Andrea Evans is the brand new director of Northeastern Illinois University’s Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, yet she already has one small regret.
“I met with a handful of alumni when I interviewed for this job, and looking back I wish I had a video camera that night,” said Evans, who took over the position in January. “The passion that they felt about the Carruthers Center was so evident. They talked about what they had learned, how it changed their lives and how they see the world, politics, their communities and their role in the world. That was evident that night and has been evident every day since.”
Even without the video footage of enthusiastic alumni, Evans is rapidly learning about the fascinating history of the 52-year-old Carruthers Center and the century-old building in which it is housed in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
The building’s walls are lined with photos of prominent speakers who have visited the building in the past, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
“It’s amazing to me to be in a space that has played such a role in activism dating back decades,” Evans said. “I feel pretty privileged to be a part of that.”
Founded in 1966, the Carruthers Center has a deep connection with the surrounding South Side community. It serves as an African-centered institution whose mission is to provide educational opportunities within a culturally comfortable and easily accessible setting. Leading such an important institution is a task Evans takes very seriously.
“I hope to maintain a legacy here at the Carruthers Center while meeting the needs of 21st century students,” said Evans, who came to Northeastern from Governors State University. “Northeastern has a fantastic legacy, and we will be a part of that legacy going forward, meeting students where they are, meeting the needs of the surrounding community.”
A Chicago native, Evans has spent more than half of her 14-year higher education career in administration, serving as program coordinator, department chair and dean at several universities in Illinois. As chair and as dean at Governors State, Evans served as chief academic, administrative and fiscal officer in the College of Education and managed research and service activities, faculty development and evaluation, school-university and other partnerships, and grant activity, as well as student recruitment, retention and support. Prior to her work in academia, Evans worked as a high school science teacher and alternative school administrator in the Chicago area.
Since Evans’ arrival, the Carruthers Center has renovated its student lounge, bathrooms and tutoring center. It also recently added a new health and counseling center with an exam room for students to speak with therapists or social workers. All of those projects were initiated before Evans was hired but add to the momentum of her arrival.
In addition to facilities and support services, Evans is focused on ensuring the Carruthers Center offers the right mix of academic programs and events—particularly for freshmen who she sees using the lessons of history as a “launching pad” to understand how they can make a difference in their surroundings.
In April, the Carruthers Center filled Donn Bailey Legacy Hall for a boisterous student poetry slam. It was the type of event that will become more common in the South Side location in the coming years.
“That energy and activity is what keeps the Carruthers Center going,” Evans said. “That has to happen for us to thrive and respect the legacy that this place has had for decades.”