Thirteen years after graduation, David Biggs has come home. As an assistant dean for residence in DuBois College House, Biggs is reliving his undergraduate days just a few doors down from the room he slept in as a freshman at the University in 1973. Now Biggs, one of the first participants in the DuBois program, has vowed to share with new residents everything he learned in the house. He said the program, which focuses on black culture and history, was invaluable to him. Like the Universitys five other college houses, DuBois is a residence hall centered around the idea of building community. But DuBois might never be seen as just another college house. Although the house, located in Low Rise North, is open to all students, most residents are black. And on a predominantly white campus where diversity has become the buzzword, DuBois residents often feel pressured to justify why they have chosen to live where they live. Several of the houses 100 undergraduate residents came from predominantly white high schools to a predominantly white college. Many of them stress that the program develops a sense of community among residents by enabling them to learn about black culture and history, which they say is neglected in the rest of their education. To that end, the 18-year-old college house program sponsors trips to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., Alvin Ailey dance concerts or Philadelphia exhibits on African art. It also runs artist-in-residence and scholar-in-residence programs, which in recent years has brought celebrities such as filmmaker Spike Lee and author and civil rights activist Angela Davis. It also has initiated a new cultural program called the Souls of DuBois Conference. But many non-residents maintain that a predominantly black college house defeats University efforts to form a diverse and integrated community. And Ray Lewis, a senior in the College of General Studies, said last week that he believes students need to live together to establish a well-integrated community. One of the points of education should be to promote integration, Lewis said last week. This [DuBois] seems to go against that . . . It doesnt seem that we are ever going to get any kind of social peace if we cannot get different kinds of people living together. Other upperclass students said they had never heard of DuBois. While some non-residents said they assumed most of the black community lives in the house, only about one-fifth of the black student population at the University participates in the program, which is open to all students. DuBois has this image of being an all-black dormitory, former Faculty Master Allen Green said. Its not . . . The concentration of that small part of the African-American population tends to be a problem for people. DuBois residents said that while they are constantly accused of separatism, they do not live in the house to separate themselves from the white community. [Separatism] is one of the rumors that is definitely not true, Engineering sophomore Shelly-Ann Smith said last week. Its a lie . . . I came to live here because Im from a predominantly black community and coming to a predominantly white university world, I thought it would be a good support system. This is like home, she added. And many of the residents said they think it is misconceptions about the house that lead people to label the house as separatist. From the mispronunciation of the name many mistakenly pronounce DuBois in the French style to the widespread belief that only black students are eligible to live in the house, inaccuracies about the house are common throughout campus. And residents added that accusations of separatism extend from DuBois to the tables of the Class of 1920 Commons to Spring Fling. People see more than four black people together at once and they think theyre being excluded, College junior Dawn Johnson said. Everything thats not part of the general population, theyre going to say is separatist. Johnson lived in DuBois her freshman year. She opted to live in the high rises during her sophomore year, but moved back into the house this fall. She said DuBois is necessary because it offers security in addition to support. You have to deal with racial slurs and that bullshit at Penn, Johnson said. You should not have to deal with that where you live . . . That should be the community where you are safest. Residents and administrators also say the University community is more judgmental of DuBois than of other groups. They say that it is unfair that DuBois theme of black culture and history comes under fire while other college house themes do not. Why have we not asked the same questions about the other college houses? asked former Faculty Master Green, now director of the African-American Resource Center. He said that the community places the house under the microscope and overanalyzes it. Green, who served as DuBois faculty master from 1986 to 1989, said last week that students need the support the house offers. Because of the paucity of African-American students on campus and the lack of positive images and reinforcement that occur at a predominantly white University, it [the house] becomes a very important point of self-esteem . . . as well as allowing students to learn about their heroes and their heroines, he said. Program participants say DuBois consistently attracts applicants, and Resident Faculty Master Risa Lavizzo-Mourey said the number of applicants increased last year. Several candidates were wait-listed, but Lavizzo-Mourey said the house was finally able to accommodate everyone. People choose to live here because they are interested in the theme, she said last week. All the programs relate to the theme . . . It gives people real hands-on-experience to the culture, history and art of the African-American people. Part of the role of DuBois is to give a positive image of the culture you wouldnt ordinarily get, she added. Wharton freshman Michael Chang said last week that he chose to live in DuBois because he wanted to learn more about his roots. They dont teach about African-American culture in high school, Chang said. Theres one or two pages in the whole textbook about African-American or Caribbean-American culture. He added that the labeling of the house as separatist irritates him. Theyre putting down everything W.E.B. DuBois stands for, he said. He didnt stand for separatism. Were trying to live up to his ideals. Its not separate from the University, Chang added. It just brings people with common interests in the culture together. College freshman Yi Chen Lai is one of the few non-black undergraduate residents. He said he chose to live in DuBois as a freshman because of his interest in learning about other cultures. Its a nice house with a bunch of nice people regardless of the color of their skin, he said. Its not that they want to be separate, but others dont come here. I dont feel like the outsider, he added.Comments powered by Disqus
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