Affinity housing goes under review

by Sarah Betts | 5/13/02 5:00am

Affinity houses and undergraduate societies are undergoing a committee review process as part of the Student Life Initiative that aims to understand how these residential options contribute to the College community and generate suggestions for their improvement.

According to Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman, the committee of faculty, residential life staff members and students is breaking into smaller groups in order to interview students and faculty advisors. The participants then plan to reconvene and share their information.

"We want to spend the balance of the term understanding what we learned," said Redman, who chairs the committee.

The committee will then draft a recommendation that will be submitted to Dean Larimore, hopefully before the end of the term. The goal of the report, Redman emphasized, will be to provide constructive criticism for organizations.

"This isn't a witch hunt," Redman said. "We aren't out to close anyone down. Our goal is to expand the affinity house and undergraduate society programs, to give students more options."

Dartmouth's affinity housing program currently includes: the Asian Studies Center, the Foley House for cooperative living, the Francophone House, the Hillel Apartments, the International House, the Kade German Center, La Casa, the Native American House, the Shabazz Center for African-American studies and the Latin American, Latina and Caribbean Studies house.

Undergraduate societies include Panarchy and Amarna.

Alexander Hernandez-Siegel, a committee member and advisor to LALAC, is glad the review is being conducted and thinks it can only benefit the existing programs.

"I am on the committee, and I am grateful for it," Hernandez-Siegel said. "It will provide us with a clearer vision and goal sets."

He hopes that the review will eventually stimulate more support for the programs and help specific organizations connect more with other groups.

Affinity houses are often seen as open only to members of certain ethnicities, Hernandez-Siegel said, and hopes that will change.

"There is a myth that these are just for Latinos or Asians or blacks," Hernandez-Siegel said. "But the house is like a little United Nations -- there are people from so many different backgrounds."

Shabazz resident Nubia Solomon '04 said that while affinity housing is often viewed as separate from the rest of the community, she actually feels more involved because of the number of events and activities the house makes available. She also cited the community feel of the house as a benefit.

"There is a feel that it is a house, not a dorm," fellow Shabazz resident Ben Thorpe '04 said. Thorpe, who is white, chose to live in Shabazz to experience a more diverse environment.

"I decided to live here because I was uncomfortable being in such a majority," Thorpe said. "Anything that isn't affinity housing here is white affinity housing."

Redman would like to see more students gain the ability to organize into houses. His own goal entering the review committee is clarifying the process by which new affinity houses are established.

"I want a recommendation for a process to create new groups," Redman said. "I told the committee that we must make a recommendation on how to do this."

The last affinity house to be established, according to Redman, was the LALAC house, and many groups have expressed interest in forming since, including a proposed Korean house.

After the committee makes its recommendations, they hope to spend the fall in public conversation, Redman said.

"We will give a copy of the finished report to all of the groups," Redman said.

Amarna president Mindy Pereira '03 said she is happy her society is involved in the review process.

"We are glad that we will get to shape the College's view of the societies," Pereira said.