Roughly 60 students, Penn alumni, and Penn community members — including Interim President Wendell Pritchett — gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Du Bois College House last Friday.
The "family reunion" event was attended by both former and current residents of Du Bois, which is located at 39th and Walnut streets. The attendees congregated outside of the college house to reflect on their living experiences there. Student groups performed a cappella songs and recited poetry in honor of the anniversary.
Penn appointed W. E. B. Du Bois as an assistant instructor in 1896. The University tasked Du Bois to conduct a sociological study which developed into "The Philadelphia Negro," a book describing and studying the lives of African Americans in Philadelphia's Seventh Ward. The college house that would come to bear Du Bois' namesake was established in 1972 in response to student demands for a Black-centered space on campus.
Charles Howard, Penn's chaplain and a 2000 College graduate, spoke at the event about his experiences living in Du Bois as an undergraduate student. Howard recounted being a part of The Inspiration, a co-ed a cappella group whose mission is to "celebrate the legacy of the African Diaspora."
“When I was in The Inspiration, we rehearsed downstairs. I got hugged and yelled at by my house dean. This is home. It's not a dorm. It's a home. It's a home that I and hundreds — if not thousands — of students were raised in,” Howard said.
The Inspiration performed two songs at the 50th anniversary celebration, including their rendition of "As" by Stevie Wonder. Members of the spoken poetry group, The Excelano Project, also recited poems about their Black identity.
Du Bois resident and College first year Sarah Oburu said she was glad to have participated in the event.
“Since we are the smallest college house, it's really lovely to see everybody in one collective space at one time, in one entity. The whole preface behind this was a family reunion and [the event] definitely gave off that vibe and energy,” Oburu said.
Du Bois Faculty Fellow Audrey Mbeje, who spoke at the event, emphasized the importance of honoring and remembering the legacy of Du Bois for whom the college house is named.
“I am deeply honored to be a faculty fellow in Du Bois College House that holds and keeps the legacy of a very decent human being, a very decent scholar, a very decent person who respected people, who saw people for who they are. We have a privilege as Du Bois College House to keep that legacy going,” Mbeje said.
The interim president also spoke at the anniversary reunion event. Pritchett, who became interim president after former Penn President Amy Gutmann was confirmed as the United States ambassador to Germany, is the first Black individual in Penn's history to serve as president.
“For five decades, the Du Bois College House [is] for students and alumni [who] have used their talents to advance the cause of equity and social justice. I think Dr. Du Bois would be very proud,” Pritchett said.