Updated: Oct 28, 2021
By: Shay Manuela
This article is part of a three-part series detailing the experiences of students in identity-based living units on campus: The House of Black Culture (HBC), The Sexuality and Gender Equality House (SAGE), and Latin American Cultures and Student Anecdotes (LA CASA). Residents share the importance of these houses for their OWU experience and the campus community at large.
The House of Black Culture, located on 65 Oak Hill, has been a part of the Ohio Wesleyan campus since the 1970s. In 2017, it was announced that the original residence was no longer suitable for students to live in due to maintenance issues. Following student and alumni objections to relocating the residents to the former Honors House, the Board of Trustees approved a $1.25 million budget for the construction of a new House of Black Culture in February 2018. This newly reconstructed Butler A. Jones House opened its doors a year later.
Tracy Nkulikiyimfura ’21 has been a resident since Fall 2019. After arriving at Ohio Wesleyan, the House of Black Culture (HBC) was the first place she felt safe. “Due to the fact that it was often the only place on campus where I would see other people that looked like me, and related to my past, present and future. I always came over for all the events, study table sessions, and anything they put together for the Black students on campus,” Tracy said. The deep connection fostered with its residents was her main motivation for applying. “The people that lived here when I was an underclassman were like older siblings, who guided me, reminded me of my worth and expectations while studying at a PWI. Living in a historic and honorable place that would also enable me to welcome people, share my experiences, and cultivate an environment where we do have to perform or conform to the norms that people have placed on black and brown folks.”
Xena Yarbrough ‘22 has been living in the House of Black Culture (HBC) for two years. After originally applying to be a resident assistant (RA) in Stuyvesant Hall, she became an RA for HBC. “It seemed pretty daunting but I was excited to take on the job and help improve life for the black community on campus.”
Xena explained that living in the house differs from living in a residential building, as people are more secluded in their dorms. “In the house, we are a home and family. It is much more inclusive and provides more support than dorm-style living.” This communal sentiment resonates with Tracy. “I truly enjoy having underclassmen come over for homework, dinner or just to hang out because it reminds me of how I felt when I first came to HBC,” Tracy shared.
Xena notes that especially at a predominantly white institution like Ohio Wesleyan, there is a need for spaces for historically marginalized students. “As Black Americans, we are always disregarded, underfunded, and not supported, yet expected to perform better than our non-black counterparts. HBC serves as a safe haven for the black community, where they can be protected, provided for, and can be their most authentic selves without worry of backlash.”
Tracy adds that it is particularly important for a college that boasts diversity to provide these safe spaces for historically underrepresented students. “Even within the international student population, black students are a minority. Having a house centered on Black identity on campus is simply providing a space for people that identify with those ideals. The campus itself and as a whole was built on white identity. All these buildings, classrooms, and historical landmarks were designed as white spaces,” Tracy explained. Thus, she notes that having a house centered around Black identity is not a system of exclusion, but of inclusion by allowing students a space that celebrates their background. “HBC is not only for its residents. It is for the Black student body at large and anyone who is interested in or an ally to their fellow Black and Brown peers.”
The House of Black Culture hosts various events throughout the academic year that provide the student body with a sense of Black culture. Xena looks back particularly fondly at Soul Chronicles and the annual HBC reunion of 2020. “The love, happiness, and community; you could feel it in the air.” Taking a moment to step back during both events and watch those gathered filled her with joy. “We had all come from different parts of the world and made our own family. It showed the true resilience and beauty of the Black community.”
While the students found value in the sense of community found in the house, they also noted that living in the house exposed her to an alternative side of campus. “I have learned how badly the Black community is treated on campus, having first-hand seen the racism and prejudices which the university has allowed and participated in,” Xena said. Tracy adds that she experienced that “regardless of how smart, sharp, polite, and kind you are,” you may still be mistreated solely based on your skin tone; a personal realization that led to new life insights. “This pushed me to only carry my weight and not the world’s. I came for my education, to experience life, and to learn from it.”
Both residents have particular suggestions on how Ohio Wesleyan could improve on supporting HBC and its residents. “The House of Black Culture needs funding so that we can offer more resources and programs for the black community.” In addition, she notes that the school should make more available for black students on campus at large. “After that, the best way to support HBC is to support the students. Black students need scholarships and financial aid. Black students need specific resources and black faculty and staff to support them. Black students need policies that are not inherently racist.” Tracy shared that there is a particular need for Public Safety to “stop patrolling the house and appearing unannounced.” She added, “As a matter of fact, it would be great if OWU treated HBC how they treat the houses on Frat Hill. Let us be college students like them and face the same consequences.”