BY: COURA FALL
Lisa Freeman, director of residence life, Christopher Silva, director of housing, and Counsuelo Grier, director of multicultural support at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion discussed the new Black affinity housing option during a press conference on Wed. Feb. 12.
"Black Affinity Housing provides an intentional residential community dedicated to celebrating, exploring and affirming Black student experiences at American University and beyond," Grier mentioned in an opening statement. "Black affinity housing will support a stronger sense of community, identity, and belonging for participating students." The housing option, which is now available, allows any Black American University student to apply to live in the affinity housing option.
Following a student petition this past April and a campus-wide survey disseminated over the summer, the fall semester of 2019 was a period of research and dialogue on the potential of a Black residential option. As to the question, why now? Grier commented that it's about the "timing and convergence of things, [students] demanding things that they need from this community and us being intentional and responsive, to really try to enhance the sense of belonging."
There have been concerns about Roper Hall's current state, as it is one of the few halls that has not been renovated in recent years. Silva provided insight into how the two-floor building will look when students move in next fall. "We've replaced the carpet, replaced the blinds over winter break and we will continue to do work just like we do in all of our buildings to ensure that it has a great quality and that it is meeting all the different needs of students. We'll be doing a renovation of the lounge and the kitchen in May over in Roper."
Freeman also spoke to how Roper was the best fit in terms of creating a safe and welcoming community for Black students at AU. "It's small and it allows for an intentional kind of bonding and connecting and that's the ideal space for us to be able to do that with the students. The students are really wanting to have a space that was not just a floor or wing. They wanted something that they could call their own and Roper is one of the best types of buildings in terms of its structure."
There was an emphasis on the importance of having stakeholders and campus partners involved in the development and implementation process of the Black affinity housing option. This has included working with the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the Center for Student Involvement, Housing and Residence Life and others.
An advisory council has also been formed. It is comprised of students living in Roper next year that can brief administrators of the housing's performance. "We have an idea of what we'd like to see, but we want the students to influence this too, which is why once we have the returners identified, we're going to be spending time with them, talking about what measures that we want to see for success. We want them to be a part of that. Anything that's going to work and that's going to be sustained, has to have student input and student buy-in."
While there are not any criteria other than identifying as a Black student in order to live in Roper next year, students cannot be part of any other living-learning communities, such as Honors, Community Based Research Scholars, Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars or any of the three-year programs. It was stressed that an "educational component" would be an integral part of the Black housing option and its community-building goals. "While there may not be a class tied to it now, there will be an emphasis on education and how we can bridge the gap between learning that happens in the classroom as well as in the community. We do want students to be at the heart of the direction that it takes."
It was acknowledged that in order to make this housing option a success, it will require constant follow-up, as well as being in contact with residents of Roper. "We also know that this community may not be what all Black students want. I think it's important to really keep at the forefront of our minds that the Black community is not a monolithic community. There are a number of goals that the Black community has. There are a number of different intersecting identities that are more and less salient for our Black students. Some people may choose not to do this. Some people may need this to reinforce identity. So there will be a number of reasons why people choose this but also may choose some of the other living-learning and educational components that we have on campus."
Lastly, the concern over how AUPD will be involved with policing Roper was addressed. Housing and Residence Life reassured the public that AUPD has been briefed, and that the steering committee on this housing initiative and AUPD have been in constant contact in regards of what it means to be "culturally responsive."
Overall, administrators appear to be fully on board with the initiative and are eager to ensure that Roper can be the positive space that Black students have been asking for.