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Du Bois College House is located at 3900 Walnut Street. 

Credit: Derek Wong

Citing the spirit of Du Bois College House’s founding, residents have celebrated the dorm’s strong sense of community while describing ongoing challenges with amenities and the dorm selection process.

Amid accusations of segregation, Du Bois College House was founded in 1972 to help support the retention and success of Black students. The house's original mission was to “support students of the African Diaspora by serving as a hub for activities that promote African and African American scholarship and culture.” 

“I found the community that I was looking for,” College sophomore Clarke Dickens said. “I only wanted to come to a [predominantly white institution] with college houses that serve Black students.”

The College House approaches its goal of supporting Black students in multiple ways, including a variety of program communities and signature programs centering around cultural expression and fitness.

Graduate School of Education professor Amalia Daché, the Du Bois faculty director, is in charge of organizing the dorm’s academic programming, which she described as important to the house’s identity.

“Because we’re such a small house, there’s always community building and social experience that comes out of the academic side,” Daché said. “We’re very communal. Very family-oriented.”  

Many residents cite these activities as one of the unique benefits of living in Du Bois.

“There’s always special programming and there are always familiar faces there. I really do like that about Du Bois,” Wharton junior Bijon Gayle said. 

Gayle, who has lived in Du Bois his entire time as an undergraduate, said the house’s energy motivates residents to return in future years, including many of those in the Classes of 2025 and 2026.

Residents, including Dickens, described the multipurpose room as a central hub in the house, serving as a venue for different activities and events.

"So many things happen there," Dickens said. "It can be a study room, [or] events can happen there. It’s so accessible and that’s what I really appreciate."

Aside from being the location for Du Bois’ programming, the MPR also hosts several events from UMOJA, the University’s umbrella organization for Black student groups. Recently, residents and other community members gathered to watch the Africa Cup of Nations finals.

“Our MPR after 5 p.m. is very vibrant,” Daché said.

Despite the strong community supporting Du Bois, residents said they are aware of the challenges facing the College House. Students in the College House have historically reported substandard living conditions compared to other college houses, with many saying the amenities prevented their return. The dorm lacked air conditioning until 2019 and is missing other accommodations, such as full kitchens, which have been built-in to newer college houses such as Gutmann and Lauder.

“There are a lot of amenities in other dorms that compel people away from Du Bois," 2023 College graduate Emilia Onuonga said when asked about the dorm in 2022. "... We know that Penn has the resources to invest in Du Bois, and yet they have not done so.”

With Quad and Stouffer college houses receiving renovations as part of the Penn Connects 3.0 plan, some residents have wondered which dorms are the next target. Du Bois is not among the buildings listed as part of Penn’s current stage of campus development. However, the building recently received upgrades to its facilities, including a dance room and new furniture.

Gayle, who cited the poor amenities as the reason he did not rank Du Bois first as an incoming first year, expressed interest in an elevator. 

Despite calls for improvements to Du Bois, some residents are concerned about what that could mean for those involved with the house.

“If Du Bois does get renovated, where do the Black students and staff go?” Dickens said. “When you feel like you have a sense of community and home here, it’s hard to go without.”

Even for those accepting of the current conditions, there are obstacles to staying in the house. Multiple students spoke about challenges encountered with the University's room selection process and how that impacts the dorm’s population.

“It’s tough. I wanted to live with certain people, but they didn’t get to return to housing — there’s just a lot of issues that arise that way,” Dickens said when asked about their room selection experience. 

This trend has led to frustration for some Black students who believe the University does not do enough to prioritize Black students who want to live in the house over non-Black students — some of whom did not rank Du Bois as a housing choice. 

“My freshman year we had a lot of non-Black engineers or nurses on our floor saying things like ‘I wanted to live in Lauder and Quad,’ and don’t even remember ranking Du Bois,” Dickens said. “Then I go outside and there’s a lot of Black students saying they really want to live here and ranked it first.”

Senior Executive Director of Business Services Douglas Berger, who oversees on-campus housing, previously told the DP that the University has to abide by fair housing laws — meaning that neither residential communities nor housing applications consider race. The Du Bois website echoes this, stating that “from its inception, the Du Bois program never rejected students on the basis of race."

When asked how the makeup of the house influences Du Bois’ mission, Daché emphasized Du Bois’ commitment to supporting Black students while inviting students of African descent and those who are not.

“There isn’t an expectation that you have to be of African decent to live in Du Bois,” Daché said. “Yet the mission is based on the inclusion of Black culture around the diaspora."