It takes a village, according to the Du Bois College House motto. As residents and members of the house’s council, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. The time that each of us has spent in Du Bois has been filled with loving and enriching experiences. But these experiences were not reflected in a column that College senior Aya Saed published in The Daily Pennsylvanian two weeks ago.
Saed, who has never resided in Du Bois, called for the house to create a communal atmosphere and “reinvent itself as a nurturing space for the black community.” Given the nature of her inquiry, we were surprised that Saed didn’t care to contact any of the House Council leaders for input prior to the publication of her article. What made matters worse is that Saed is the planning and facilitating chair of UMOJA, the umbrella organization that oversees groups including the Du Bois House Council.
As such, we have decided to take it upon ourselves to debunk misconceptions surrounding Du Bois that were perpetuated in Saed’s column.
Du Bois is not just a space for black students. It is a college house for students of all cultures. From its inception, Du Bois has received support from black and white students alike. These two groups conducted protests and called for the creation of a space for black students. During those early years, the vision to transform Du Bois into a designated cultural space was relevant because there were no other alternatives for black students on campus. With the creation of Makuu, the Black Student League and UMOJA in recent years, Du Bois is no longer the only space on campus for black students.
As a result, Du Bois has evolved to serve as a college house for Penn students. We haven’t forgotten our heritage, but we also wish to accommodate a more diverse group of residents. We are no longer a college house that caters solely to the black community, but one that still emphasizes Africana interests through its programming.
2002 College graduate and Africana studies lecturer Tanji Gilliam, who is quoted in Saed’s column, was aware of programming when she lived in the college house last year as a fellow. While Gilliam laments Du Bois’ decline from its “heyday” when she was a student resident, we’d argue that the house boasts a vibrant connection to the black community.
Multicultural Greek Council chapters such as Kappa Alpha Psi continue to host events in our college house while faculty fellows — most recently professor Audrey Mbeje, who teaches a Zulu language course — hold classes in our seminar rooms. Our house dean, Patricia Williams — or “Ms. Trish” — often throws special events for residents — most recently, a dessert watch party for the presidential and vice presidential debates.
Far from being an oppressive “extension to the classroom,” Du Bois is a place where we can thrive as student leaders and work alongside graduate associates and our residential advisor to create exciting and diverse events that many residents appreciate.
Two council members, along with a handful of residents each year, have benefited from the Du Bois College House Endowed Scholarship, which provides financial support to upperclassman residents who have demonstrated academic excellence and leadership abilities. This is an opportunity unique to Du Bois and cannot be found in any other college house. Saed did not take these positive experiences into account when she attempted her exposé.
We understand the need to carve spaces for black students on campus. Given Makuu’s temporary relocation from the ARCH building to a space in Houston Hall to give way to renovations, this problem has become more pertinent. However, since Du Bois has made great leaps to extend its reach to students from all cultures, it would be unfortunate to limit the house to serving the black community alone. We need to lobby administrators to provide better spaces for all cultural groups.
As Du Bois celebrates its 40th anniversary, we must appreciate how the house has evolved. What was once a two-floor program tailored to black interests alone has transformed to a newly renovated four-floor house with a multicultural constituency. Du Bois recognizes its past and has a vision for its future. Our house hasn’t stopped defining itself as a space for black students, but we also welcome brothers and sisters from different backgrounds. We’re proud to be members of a unique and diverse house with talented residents. As Ms. Trish loves to say, we’re “the U.N. at UPenn.”
The W.E.B. Du Bois College House Executive Board consists of College junior Farrah Alkhaleel, president; College junior and Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, Ernest Owens, vice president; College sophomore Taylor Blackston, secretary and Wharton freshman Simon Tesfalul, treasurer. They may be contacted at http://dubois.house.upenn.edu/