The Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE) is a deeply significant organization on the St. Olaf campus that focuses on providing outlets for Black students to express themselves. CUBE also invites students of all identities to come and learn about Black history and the experiences of Black students at St. Olaf.
CUBE has existed in one form or another since the creation of the Black Action Committee (BAC) in 1968. “The Cube” was originally a physical space in the Ytterboe annex, which eventually evolved into becoming the Cultural Union for Black Expression.
During this period, CUBE was a place where “St. Olaf’s minority students, not exclusively Black, [congregated] for a number of reasons” — from studying to playing cards — as written in a Messenger article from 1971.
Even during this time, however, the BAC was focused on helping Black students at St. Olaf on an administrative level. The BAC advocated for purchasing “racial literature,” creating more accredited race and ethnic studies courses and sponsoring travel across the country for Black St. Olaf students to help encourage more Black applicants to the College.
At the same time as CUBE advocated these systemic changes, race and ethnic studies programs were emerging in colleges across the country. Seen as “pacification programs,” colleges founded these initiatives on soft money to reduce tension in the short run without a real commitment. Within a few years, funding began to dry up.
It was only through advocacy from faculty members and CUBE that the race and ethnic studies program at St. Olaf became protected and was able to grow into one of the oldest race and ethnic studies programs in the country.
The early history of CUBE set the stage for the tripartite role that CUBE has played and continues to play here at St. Olaf — providing a space for Black students to engage in self-expression, creating programs and resources to educate students of all backgrounds and advocating on behalf of BIPOC students to cause administrative change.
It is easy to see the combination of their three goals in CUBE’s recent work. By hosting events like the “Why I Love Being Black” panel and “Paint n’ Sip,” where attendees got to try their hands at recreating paintings by famous Black artists, CUBE provides opportunities for Black students to engage in self-expression and to put that expression in the context of Black history. These events provide invaluable learning opportunities for people of all identities.
CUBE’s condemnation of administration co-opting the “7 Feet for 7 Shots” march has served as a catalyst for the St. Olaf community’s hunger for systemic change, the greatest push since the Collective for Change on the Hill led protests in 2017. It is unquestionable that CUBE has been and will continue to be one of the best resources on campus for promoting and doing the work of anti-racism.
CUBE meets via Zoom from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays.