The national sentiment during the mid-1960s related to needed improvements in civil rights for Black Americans, caused MSU to examine its posture on the recruitment and retention of Black students. It was determined that a special effort, beyond what was currently taking place, was necessary to insure that the University's student population was diverse and representative of the many communities it serves. As a result, the "Detroit Project" was instituted; bringing many more Black students to the campus that had ever been here before.
As larger numbers of Black students enrolled at MSU in the late 1960's, it became evident that more comprehensive efforts were needed to retain these students and to insure their academic success. The problems these students were experiencing indicted that the "traditional" approach used all students was not sufficient.
One of the major points of difficulty for Blacks students was in their residential environment. As minorities, these students often experienced feelings of isolation, loneliness and alienation that frequently obscured their academic and career goals. Overt racist acts directed at them were additional obstacles to their success.
Ervin Armstrong presented the idea of Black Culture rooms in order to help Black students establish their cultural niche in Michigan State's environment, a predominately White institution. The culture rooms were to be the center of his proposal to formulate a base of Black Culture on the MSU Campus. He had an idea that Black students, in their struggles for survival in the early era of MSU's Black student recruitment thrust, needed something to identify with at the University that would not be transient. They needed something that all Black students, both then and these of the future, would be able to look at, draw encouragement from, and make additions to with their own impressions of the culture. The students realized that special programs, grant in aid, remedial and counseling programs would rise and fall with the administrative whims. The establishment of the Black Culture room was their answer to "working within the system", to become part of it by finding their place in it.
History gives evidence to the either inherent or created differences between White and Black cultures, which stands now for the reason why the culture rooms were proposed to serve as a room for Black students' self-expression. One culture room was founded in each hall, with planning and cooperation of then Residence Life Director Gary North, Carl Taylor and financial support through Robert Underwood, then Manager of Residence Halls, along with student input and involvement. The first Black Culture Room, located in Shaw Hall, was established in September 1969.
Currently, there 19 caucus rooms throughout the residence hall system. They were initially used for and continue to be used as: libraries, places for social and academic activities, and as performing arts meeting places. Since the 1980's, these caucus rooms are still used by African American students residing in the halls to conduct caucus meetings, hold small-scale programs, and serve as a place where students can study. Improvements, renovations, and efforts to beautify and maintain these rooms continue to be a challenge to meet as little financial support for these efforts is there.