By Barb Stern
They are one of southwestern-Pennsylvania’s hidden gems—the 30 Nationality Rooms located in the Cathedral of Learning, at the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus, in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Celebrating nations of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, the Nationality Rooms will be open to the public during the 20th-annual open house on Sunday, December 7, from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. Proceeds from refreshments will go toward scholarships that enable students to study in other countries.
The main foyer will resound with dancing and music. Many student groups at Pitt will have information tables about their organizations. Every room will display the traditions of the country it represents, speakers, dressed in traditional attire, will give brief lectures on the countries’ holiday traditions.
The Nationality Rooms were the brainchild of John Bowman, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor, from 1921-1945.
“He had never met immigrants before,” explained E. Maxine Bruhns, executive director of the Nationality Rooms. “He wanted to reach out to these immigrants and to celebrate the good things that these immigrants brought to America.”
Bruhns said that each room has its own personality. “In the Chinese Room, Confucian ideas abound. Confucius believed in teaching by inspiring students gradually and steadily. The English Room looks like the House of Commons. It embodies democracy.”
She said that future plans include constructing an Iranian Room. “Iranian architecture dates back to the 8th century,” Bruhns said. “We hope to celebrate that history and look beyond the current political situations there.”
Bruhns said that the requirements for constructing a nationality room have changed. “It used to be that a nation had to be independent. Now, it need not be independent. It must have a distinctive culture.”
She said this change came about during the 1980s, when Pittsburgh’s Ukrainian community wanted to construct a Ukrainian Room. “Ukraine was not an independent nation at the time. It still was a part of the Soviet Union,” she said. “Still, the Ukraine had its own language, its own culture. We saw no reason why the Ukrainian community shouldn’t build a room.”
There is no admission fee to the open house. Other tours can be arranged by calling (412) 624-4141.