The Undergraduate Residential Life Committee (URLC), composed of seven students and four administrators, is currently in the process of selecting a program to fill what was formerly Interfaith House, located at 230 Washington St. The two proposals being considered are House of Afrika, proposed by President of the African Student Association (ASA) Ola Oladapo ’14, and The Studio, proposed by Genna DeGroot ’15 and Gabe Gordon ’15. According to Director of Residential Life Fran Koerting, the URLC will select a program based on demonstrated interest of the student community and ability of the program to sustain itself.
The University announced officially in an email sent to all students on Wednesday, Nov. 14, that student groups would be allowed to apply for the space. In addition to an application for a shared house from Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) and Rho Epsilon Pi (Rho Ep), which was rejected after a decision among administrators to deny expansion of Greek housing, three programs were initially proposed. One of these proposed programs, Creative House, is no longer being considered.
The ideas for both House of Afrika and The Studio have been well received by many students. Oladapo explained that she feels House of Afrika could potentially fill a niche otherwise unfilled at the University.
“If we were to be given this house, it would not just be open to people who are African,” Oladapo said. “It would be for people who are interested in Africa and African studies. Whether we like it or not, there’s a lack of that at Wesleyan in comparison with our peer institutions. We don’t have any professors that specialize in Africa besides the dance and music class. I think that says a lot.”
DeGroot and Gordon feel that The Studio, a house that would be devoted to visual arts, would also provide something that the University lacks.
“The art department at Wesleyan has this kind of inherent exclusivity because the size of classes are limited and there are prerequ[isite]s to them,” Gordon said. “Logistically not everyone can take all the art classes they would like to. Unlike with performing arts, [with visual arts] you don’t have the logistical access to create the stuff that you want to do if you’re not in a class.”
Gordon explained that if it is created, The Studio will provide students who are passionate about visual arts a space to create and will also act as an exhibition space.
“The Studio would be a hub for drawing the creative students of Wesleyan together,” Gordon said.
Oladapo similarly sees House of Afrika as a potential meeting ground for students who hope to learn about Africa in a way that may not be possible through formal classes offered at the University.
“I think this house will help us finally bridge that gap between ASA and African students, and students who maybe aren’t African but are interested in Africa,” Oladapo said.
The writers of both proposals were able to secure far more than the minimum number of signatures of students who would be interested in living in the house; House of Afrika secured around thirty, while The Studio secured around sixty-six.
DeGroot explained that she and Gordon have been overwhelmed by the student response to their proposal.
“That just shows that there’s a huge amount of support and desire for this house to be created,” DeGroot said. “So many people are really excited about it. There’s no way it couldn’t be successful if it was accepted.”
DeGroot listed ideas for programs that the house could host, including drawing sessions, arts and crafts, murals on the walls of the common spaces, and exhibitions of student artwork.
“The stuff made in The Studio would range from bracelets to people working on their studio art tutorial classes,” Gordon said.
DeGroot added that if the program is created, members will reach out to the greater Middletown community in a number of ways, including volunteering with Green Street Arts Center.
Oladapo has many ideas for potential programs for House of Afrika as well, including working with the ASA and with professors to bring speakers to campus, screening African movies, and facilitating dance tutorials. She also suggested that the house could collaborate on the African culture show.
According to Oladapo, students proposed the creation of a similar program house a few years ago, but that the proposal was ultimately rejected, partly because it was seen as too similar to Malcolm X House.
“The fact that people think it’s the same thing is the exact reason why we need the house,” Oladapo said. “I think we need to understand the difference between African American and African. I understand that some people say that’s it’s unnecessary to have a separate house and that the houses should be combined, but that’s like me saying that German Haus and Russian House should be combined…The problem is that people don’t learn as much about minority histories, and that’s why they don’t know the difference.”