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Dispatches from the CDC: A place to be different

Marcus Destin is a senior at USD and works as the social media and brand engagement coordinator for the university. Destin is known around campus for his involvement with student organizations like the Coyote Crazies, the Union for African American Students and, before it was dismantled, the Center for Diversity and Community (CDC). 

To Destin, the CDC was a home. His father, Lamont Sellers, was the first director of the CDC. Destin is a non-traditional student and said the CDC was one of the main reasons he enrolled at USD. 

“I was playing football in another state. My parents told me that they were moving up to South Dakota, because (Sellers) got this job. And I was like, ‘that’s great. I’m never coming to South Dakota. So, y’all do your thing. I’ll just stay down here my grandparents,’” Destin said. “So, (Sellers) was up here and he was telling me about this place (the CDC) where all of the students gather together. He would describe it as the place for people to recharge and for students of color to recharge.” 

However, Destin did end up in Vermillion where he became involved first with the CDC through his father, then eventually enrolled in USD. Destin said walking into the CDC for the first time, he could see people crammed into the office spaces, talking, laughing and having serious conversations. 

“I wish you could have been here, not just for the events that are thrown, but really like in the weeds of it. You would have understood why students are so upset. You would have understood why it means so much and you would have known what it did for us, because we can never really put it into words. So many memories are packed in this place,” Destin said. 

Destin said the CDC was a place where he didn’t need to describe the struggle of being different, especially when Destin and others in the CDC felt alone the most. 

“We all just come together and just get it. You don’t have to explain. We don’t have to teach each other,” Destin said. “You could come in and just kick back and everybody just understood.” 

Destin cherishes his memories from the CDC. One memory of planning for African Night stands out to him. Destin said one of the organizers of the African Night, Saeed Dabbour, wanted a skirt to go around the stage for the event and Diedra Gatkze, a member of Spectrum, volunteered to sew one. 

“(Dabbour) was so nitpicky about decorations and how stuff looked, he was a stickler for aesthetics,” Destin said. “(Gatzke) was on hands and knees with the sewing kit on the table and they are sewing this African pattern skirt for the front of the stage.” 

Destin said it was these moments when everyone worked hard to pull off an event, that he really loved about the CDC. 

“That was one night where it wasn’t really stressful. You were just happy to be there, because everybody cared about it just as much as you did,” Destin said. “Then when the night was over and (the African Student Association) had executed the night and had this great turnout and everybody had a ball, it was a breath of fresh air, not because it was over, but because it was worth it.” 

The person who worked to sew the skirt around the stage, Gatzke, passed away in 2019 at the age of 22. Destin said the CDC held a memorial for Gatzke. 

“Everybody who was watching them sew this pattern, this skirt, was at the memorial service and it was the same thing that everybody talked about was that moment,” Destin said. 

The CDC was where Destin made his closest life-long friends and really found where his passions for organizational leadership and communications lie. The loss of the CDC and the transformation of the space the CDC inhabited was hard for Destin because he felt he should have fought harder for the CDC. 

“I felt like I couldn’t do enough. And that in the process of helping or trying to help this transition and smooth things over, I felt like I was a part of the process that shifted. They’ve (taken) everything away from the CDC. But regardless of all the things that people know me for and regardless of all the things that I’ve done, this was the moment to stand up,” Destin said. “But it’s because if I had the voice that people say I do, if I have any influence that people say that I do, and it didn’t work, then what am I here for? This was my father’s seed, and it feels like I let him down, because his son can’t do anything.” 

The CDC was a place of growth and understanding for Destin and it gave him a purpose. Although Destin said he hopes the Student-Centered space is integrated into the USD community, it’s hard for him to be there, knowing what the space used to be. 

“I’ve laughed the hardest I’ve ever laughed in here. I’ve lost friends in here, watched people graduate and move on. The CDC was everything, and so to me now, it’s hard being in this space. It feels like there’s no remnants of the CDC,” Destin said.