The Wesleyan Argus Podcast (featuring Jocelyn Maeyama ’22) sat down with Dominique Nunnally ’19, Ricardo Vega ’21, and Katie Livingston ’21 to talk about their experiences with the Haven Hall program and what its closure means to them. The following is the transcription of an excerpt of the episode from Tuesday, April 9.
Eleanor Raab: We asked Dominique Nunnally, Haven’s current House Manager, about her experience living on the hall.
Dominique Nunnally: As a resident, I thought it was great. It beats being [here] over spring break alone. I’ve lived in Art House before, and that was just a ghost house. Spring break happened, and everyone was gone. At least at Haven, spring break happened, and then we had a picnic. Even if you didn’t see everyone every day, just knowing there’s someone in the hall or you can bump into somebody made it a little less isolated.
Sara McCrea: What do you think having a first-gen low-income (FGLI) community on campus does for the experience of first-gen low-income students?
DN: I think it’s just like any other community, no matter what it is based on. It’s like you know you have some people you can relate to instantly.
ER: She also talked about some of the engagement issues the hall has faced due to a high proportion of boarders.
DN: Having more boarders is not great, because they don’t have to be involved in any way because they’re just boarders. It made it really difficult to try to build a community because initially we had boarders but I don’t think it was as many, so having one or two people out of the loop, they eventually just joined in and everyone felt like a resident. When half the hall was boarders, it’s hard to persuade them to come join events because they know they don’t have to. It’s really challenging.
ER: We also sat down with Ricardo Vega, a current resident of Haven Hall who was hoping to be House Manager next year, to hear his thoughts about what Haven means to him and how we can spark new conversations about the FGLI experience on campus.
Ricardo Vega: Well, I was definitely surprised when I got the email. Haven Hall was like my safety to return to next year. And it was also like, “oh the low-income house will no longer be an option for low-income students.” So, that’s a problem, obviously.
Jocelyn Maeyama: And why is it so important to have something like Haven Hall for first-generation low income students?
RV: I don’t know if you’ve seen statistics, but 17 percent of our classmates at Wesleyan are in the top 1 percent of the income bracket and most other people make over $100,000.
ER: According to the New York Times, the median family income for a Wesleyan student is $192,000 and 70 percent of our classmates come from the top 20 percent.
RV: Definitely low-income students are an economic minority at Wesleyan. Wesleyan can be a very difficult place to navigate if you are first-gen low income. So, Haven Hall was one of these supports, you know, providing a place to build a community amongst first-gen low-income students, as well as providing any housing for those who needed it for winter break. Now, it feels like that support is being taken away.
SM: And do you know what the reasoning would be for them to not continue to offer that as an option?
RV: According to the email, we just didn’t get enough applicants. We got seven applicants in total and probably only a few of them like myself accepted the offer to live in Haven Hall. Also according to the email, the interest in having a place like Haven Hall has been declining. But then again, why would anyone want to live in the basement of Nicolson?
SM: And what led you to apply to the program in the first place?
RV: [Jennifer Gagné ’19] told me from my first year like “hey, Haven Hall is an option for first-gen low-income students.” And that interested me because my first year, I had a pretty difficult time finding a community with other first-gen low-income students, which I really wanted, because I felt pretty isolated from a lot of other Wesleyan students who come from wealthier backgrounds than I do or had connections to get into the University when I didn’t. So just having the space to be able to have the opportunity to connect with other FGLI students, that really intrigued me, and also personally I didn’t mind the basement.
SM: What other services and support did having a program hall provide to first-gen low-income students on campus?
RV: Well, since we’re a program hall, we obviously had to host events. We tried to host certain events that were catered towards first-gen, low-income students. I think early in the year, we had an event where we were speaking with our house advisor where we were trying to have a discussion of our experiences of being first-gen low income. So, I think one of the things that we tried to do was facilitate more conversations about this. But I’ll be honest, even the engagement in the hall was low this year. It didn’t seem like a lot of my hallmates were participating.
JM: And in place of having a hall designated to put on programming for first-gen and low-income students, where do you think the responsibility for putting on programming like that is going to fall?
RV: Now, I think it should be up to other identity groups. We have the first-gen low-income coalition, First Class. Although I’m on the board for First Class and we’ve tried to host events and facilitate discussions, although it’s very difficult when there’s very little community at Wesleyan. But I think the reason there’s very little community is because Wesleyan in general doesn’t have an open discussion about being first-gen, low-income, or about class. So I think it’s up to students now to not shy away from these conversations or not shy away from listening to first generation low income students. So I believe that identity groups or other program halls or just students in general should be open to having a conversation of class, classism, and the first-gen experience. But I also think first-gen low income is paired up so much, you know, it’s always first-gen slash low-income. When in reality even though there is a lot of crossover between the two, it’s not always the case. Some people can be low-income but not first-gen or first-gen but not low-income.
SM: As far as starting those conversations, what do you think is the best way to start those conversations?
RV: I think just letting first-gen low-income students speak out, you know, and giving them a platform to speak about these issues. The fact that this is being covered, the closing of Haven Hall, I think that’s a good sign. I think just being able to let students be able to speak about class like having spaces like Haven Hall or like the First Class Coalition, that’s really important to facilitate these conversations.
SM: [To Katie Livingston ’21] So you’re writing an op-ed this week about the closing of Haven Hall for this upcoming academic year. Can you speak to what your thoughts have been with this and what your connection is to the story?
Katie Livingston ’21: Yes. So I’m actually not a resident of Haven Hall, and I wasn’t going to apply for Haven next semester either. But I do have two friends that live there and there’s a kitchen, so I spend most of my time at Haven and it’s become kind of important to me. And in relation to like how I’m related to the FGLI community is kind of weird because institutionally I think I’m considered low-income but I come from a middle-class family. I’m a really weird case because I haven’t had parental support for like, over a year. So I’m paying tuition on my own, you know, working 20-plus hours a week to try and do that. So a lot of the issues that impact the community kind of impact me.
SM: So what specific challenges do you think FGLI students face that having something like Haven Hall addresses?
KL: Yeah. So one of Haven’s primary points—something that makes it unique—is that any student that lives there is guaranteed housing over the break. In addition to that, I mean it’s really just supposed to be a community building place. I think also they provide communal food. So if a student is struggling with food security, there’s always the option of going into the kitchen and looking in the communal areas.
SM: So I’m curious, because one of the reasons that they’ve been saying that the Hall is shutting down is lack of student interest from next year. So I’m curious if that affects more students than the students who had applied?
KL: Yeah. So I think I’m a unique case because I’m always at Haven. However, because Haven is a [program house], they give a lot of funding to it for events, programs, things like that. And, if I’m not mistaken, those can be open to the broader community. So in taking away Haven, you’re also taking away that funding for those events. I get all of my information about kind of how to survive on this campus through connections with these students. Like I wouldn’t know about the Resource Center. I wouldn’t know about the FGLI Task Force. I wouldn’t know about like, whenever there is food drives or clothing drives or things like that, or even how to navigate financial aid.
SM: I’m wondering if you can speak a little bit to the general FGLI experience? Maybe things Wesleyan students weren’t aware of before the news came of the closing of Haven Hall?
KL: So I will not say that I can speak for everybody, but to me it seems like there are issues on campus that get a lot of attention. Every once in a while something will come up, and then there will be like a rage or like this rush of backing behind it. The FGLI student experience is something that people didn’t have their eyes on a lot. So after I posted that thing [a screenshot of the email from Residential Life that Haven Hall was closing] on Facebook, I got so many reactions to it that I feel like it kind of brought it to the forefront of everybody’s attention, which I think is great. That was a surprise to me.
SM: Can you speak to what some of the reasons for lack of student interest in Haven Hall would have been?
KL: Yeah. From my perspective, before I talked to anyone at ResLife or anything like that, I thought, “it’s probably because it’s in the basement of [the] Nics.” A friend and I actually started a poll on the First Class Facebook to ask people questions about Haven Hall, and the biggest thing that I’ve seen is [that] people want to live in a house. Whenever I talk to ResLife, the response to this was, “well, we used to have Film Hall in the basement of Nics, and we think that the basement of Nics is good real estate because Film Hall used to be full.” And my response to that is that it probably was full because film is a very popular topic on campus. I don’t know if we have as many FGLI students as we had students that were interested in Film. ResLife has also said that the whole was put where it is for security reasons…apparently they do have a lot of break-ins into the wood frame houses and they wanted to make sure that if there were only a few students in Haven, that they would be secure. But, I did ask them if I were like living in a house, you know, when I apply to live on campus. Where would I live? They said they try and keep people in their houses, so there are still people living in houses during break anyway.
SM: What prompted your conversation with ResLife?
KL: What prompted it is that I read the email and I said, “well now, I’m gonna go talk to ResLife about it,” because to me like that’s always the first point of contact whenever I think there’s an issue. I do go talk to administrators one-on-one, because I want to see what their side of the story is. There is this talk of students being worried about “outing themselves”—they’ve used the words “outing themselves.” I’ve never heard an FGLI student say “outing themselves” to me; that’s a weird use of words because it’s something that’s associated with the LGBT community. And so I don’t know where they’ve gotten this concept. I’m sure that there are FGLI students who don’t want to identify themselves as a part of the community just because being on campus, I think it draws a certain amount of attention to you if you do identify yourself as that. But I [don’t have this concern], in my personal opinion, like most of the people that I know. Majority of people, that wasn’t a concern for them.
SM: So do you think that opening up FGLI housing option for freshmen would solve some of these issues?
KL: Oh my god, yes. [As a first year], you’re coming in fresh. You have no idea what’s going on and you want to connect with people who have the same issues and can tell you how to navigate this community. Just being able to visit Haven, and people giving me tips and stuff, that was so helpful to me.