Last week, the Sophian published a story on Hopkins House becoming a possible POC housing option. The article mentioned that Hopkins residents review applications for housing independently; however, since publication, The Sophian had been contacted by sources within Hopkins house, who clarified that Residence Life does in fact review applications and decide who is eligible for vacant positions in the house. Moreover, Hopkins house has been working with Residence Life throughout the year to negotiate the transition to becoming a POC housing option. Whether those vacancies are filled by students of color is contingent upon there being enough eligible applications from students of color.
Below is a statement from Dean Julianne Ohotnicky:
During the 2016-2017 academic year Residence Life has been reviewing theme housing at Smith and how it might be engaged differently to support all students at Smith, in particular our students of color and our students committed to social justice. During a recent meeting with students from Hopkins House, we discussed the role Hopkins House might play in this conversation. I shared with the students that substantial changes to the housing system would need to be vetted by Donna Lisker, Dean of the College, and possibly other senior leadership.
Smith does offer a variety of theme housing, including cooperative living, substance-free living and French-speaking community. Housing selection for each of our theme houses begins with an application process. Specifically, students are selected into theme housing via the following process: annually students complete an application for admittance, a committee of staff and students meet to review applications and determine readiness for theme house living. Students are selected from the applicants and then offered a lottery number for room selection. Last year, in an effort to diversify the Hopkins House community, priority was given to students of color. The goal was not an affinity space, but one that more accurately reflected the demographics of the Smith community.
This year, we agreed that we would use the same model and develop a proposal for Dean Lisker and senior leadership about an alternative theme housing model. That work is in process as we consider the needs our residential students, themes that would be appropriate to our campus and the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII) and recognition that it it is unlawful in the commonwealth of Massachusetts to limit housing options based on race.
Regarding students who are living in challenging roommate situations, we use a mediation process offered by trained residence life staff that is framed with a social justice lens. Students who wish to move, following working with their residence life staff, will then connect with our Assistant Director of Residence Life who shares with them the housing options that are available. Once the student identifies a new living space they are moved. We do have challenges with the availability of singles and meeting the specific needs of students who want to move but remain in their current house (which may not have availability), so sometimes there is a wait. Housing changes are generally made on a first-come, first-serve basis unless there is an emergent situation.
Below is the corrected version of the original article.
Liz Curran-Groome ‘18
The residents of Hopkins house have been working with Residence Life to create a housing community on campus for students of color. Residence Life has been reviewing theme housing over the course of this academic year and Hopkins House hopes to utilize the opportunity to create this option for students of color. There are various other theme housing options such as the Tenney House cooperative, substance-free housing and the French housing community.
A longstanding demand for housing options exclusively for students of color has existed at Smith due to incidents in houses that included the posting of explicitly racist and threatening notes on the doors of students of color in 1989. Students of color were being made to feel unsafe in their homes and, as racism persists, this has by no means ended. Students who report emergency situations with regards to their housing may be fast-tracked for a room change while situations not deemed emergent are handled on a first-come-first-served basis.
Beyond facing racism within the confines of their room, students of color can be made to feel isolated in house communities with leadership and in-groups that are often whitewashed despite there being numerous students of color in the house.
Home to 18 occupants who grocery-shop, clean, and live together according to consensus-based community standards, Hopkins House hopes to be able to facilitate the creation of a housing option for students of color. However, the transition to being a POC housing option is contingent on having enough eligible students of color apply to fill the vacancies. If there are not enough eligible applicants of color, the vacancies will be filled by other applicants.
Liz Curran-Groome ‘18
After decades of student requests and decades of Residence Life and the Smith administration neglecting to fulfill those requests, the residents of Hopkins house have decided to take matters into their own hands and create a housing option exclusively for students of color. Hopkins, one of Smith’s two food cooperative houses, only accommodates 18 students, but residents will give these spots to students of color in hopes of constructing a housing option that prioritizes safety and community building.
Demands for a housing option exclusively for students of color date back to the 80’s, when multiple incidents of intolerance occurred throughout various campus houses, including the posting of explicitly racist and threatening notes on the doors of students of color. Students were being made to feel unsafe then, and that has by no means ended for many students of color.
To this day, first years who are placed with roommates they do not know, who report that their roommate is racist, making them feel unsafe and alienated in their own room, still have to wait months for a new room assignment. Outside of their room, these same students are often made to feel isolated from house communities composed of leadership and in-groups that are often whitewashed, despite there being numerous students of color in the house.
Hopkins House is distinct as a food cooperative because it means that the house community is responsible for choosing its own members. This process facilitates the creation of a cohesive and accountable community, since residents are responsible for coordinating all of the house’s meals and shopping and cleaning for themselves. Current residents have the responsibility of reviewing the special-interest housing applications submitted by students hoping to live in the house the next year, and choose those who they believe will be a good fit. This autonomy allows them to facilitate the transition to being a housing option for students of color, without the oversight of the Department of Residential Life.
The transition may take a few years, but the end result will be a housing option exclusively for people of color on campus. This sends a clear message to Residence Life that students will utilize all of the power afforded to us to make Smith a place where every student can feel safe within their own house community.
The deadline to apply for special-interest housing is February 10. Applications can be submitted through the Residence Life Self-Service website, found on the Smith Portal homepage.