For nearly three decades, Vassar College’s ALANA Center has provided support to students of color. Now, that building is being renamed after one of the school's own.
The Jeh Vincent Johnson ALANA Cultural Center will honor the late Professor Jeh Johnson, who taught arts and architecture at the college.
What You Need To Know
- The ALANA Center, designed by Jeh V. Johnson, opened in 1993
- Johnson, a Johnson Administration appointee in 1967, also taught arts and architecture at Vassar
- The building is being improved, and will be renamed after Johnson in fall 2022
“I wrote out to all of our alum to say this, and students in droves wrote to me to say what an inspiration he had been to them. So it was a great opportunity to honor his contribution to the college by renaming the ALANA center after him,” says Vassar College President Elizabeth Bradley.
Johnson’s son Jeh, a former secretary of Homeland Security, says at least one student wrote to him saying that his father was the first black person that they had ever spoken to and that he taught them a lot about the African American experience.
Johnson advocated for more people of color and women to enter the field of architecture, and he took an active role in social issues on a national level. In 1967, he was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to serve on the National Commission on Urban Problems.
"He was also a tremendous leader and a force in the country,” says Bradley. “He had really transformed the way people thought about particularly low income housing, so from that point of view, he's just somebody that we have so much respect for.”
The ALANA Center opened in 1993. It’s one of several buildings designed by Johnson and one piece of his contribution to Vassar’s campus.
“He really transformed the ability for students who are of color or women, you know, groups that just didn't usually go into architecture to really take on that field, so I think to have an African American leader such as him as on one of our buildings, it's going to inspire all of our students,” says Bradley.
“He was proud of the architecture that he contributed to the Vassar campus, and to see his name on one of those buildings, I think, would really mean a lot to him,” says Jeh C. Johnson.
His son hopes that when student's see his father’s name on the building they'll endeavor to learn who his father was.
“A dedicated architect, teacher, mentor, husband, father, brother, friend, to generations of people and he inspired generations of people,” Johnson said of his father. “And that is almost literally what I put on his headstone at his gravesite in Nashville, Tennessee, where he grew up.”
Over the next year, the building will undergo some renovations and improvements before Vassar holds a renaming ceremony in fall 2022.