Student opinion ranges widely on new cultural house hours

04 Mar 2010 9:37 AM | Anonymous

Source: Mount Holyoke News, 03/04/10

Beginning last semester, Mount Holyoke's cultural houses, formerly open only between the hours of seven and 11 p.m, became available to all students at any hour of the day through One-Card access. The change, proposed by Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs Tanya Williams, was intended to create not only less of a time constraint on the use of the cultural houses, but also to expose the larger Mount Holyoke student body to the cultural life on campus.

Mount Holyoke has five cultural houses: the ACE House, or Asian Center for Empowerment, the Betty Shabazz House, a cultural space for students of African descent, the Eliana Ortega Cultural Center, cultural space for the Latina community, the Jeannette Marks House for the lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, as well as the Zowie Banteah Cultural Center to serve the needs of the Native American community. Previously, if a student wanted to access one of these cultural houses, they would need to come between the hours of 7 and 11 p.m. to be let in by a house sitter.

"I just felt odd about that time constraint, and the cultural houses sitting there for most of the time collecting dust unnerved me. There are no longer house sitters but instead we now have cultural house programming teams. There is a program coordinator as well as two program assistants for each house. Their job is to produce programming within the house such as movie nights, cooking and more educational things open to all of campus. They also have the responsibility of coordinating Cultural Heritage Month," said Williams.

While this change has created an opportunity for all Mount Holyoke students to be further educated on the vibrant cultural life on campus, the cultural houses were originally created to be a safe space for underrepresented groups, and some fear this will jeopardize the well-being of those students.

"It's going to be harder for certain people who use the cultural houses to feel like they have a safe place on campus. The cultural houses were created to provide a safe place for students who may find it hard to be in a place like Mount Holyoke where the dominant culture is imposed. By opening them up to everyone it may make some students feel uncomfortable,” said Maria Diaz '10.

Williams remains optimistic about the transition but also made clear that this is a pilot and will only continue as long as the cultural houses remain to function as they were originally intended.

"It's a change I am excited about but I have my reservations. The houses were created for some comfort to exist. With this change the houses have not been taken away, but there is a concern people will not treat the houses with respect. We haven’t seen anything like this yet, but we have to educate the whole campus how to treat them with respect," said Williams.

Many students who have never been inside any of the cultural houses are thrilled with the change and foresee an ultimately positive outcome.

"I do agree that it could make members of the cultural groups feel uncomfortable, but it will also help everyone learn more about those cultures. I think it will be beneficial to all Mount Holyoke students," said Melissa Roark '12.

Annie Arbuthnot '12 agreed, "I think cultural houses are meant to be used, and I think the more people that will be using them with the extended hours is better."

Though Williams said that not everyone has been in agreement with her on this decision, it is important to her that Mount Holyoke as a community learn why these houses exist and agree on how to treat them.

"Until Mount Holyoke as a larger community really feels completely safe the houses can be tricky because I don't want to take safe space away from students. But in the past the houses were not used to their fullest," said Williams. "It is a risk I'm willing to take."

Williams also noted that cultural houses on many other college campuses such as Swarthmore College typically have a full staff affiliated with each house as well as programming and a library. "We have a building but I'm trying to develop a staff made up of work-study positions for each house."

"Mount Holyoke is not perfect. My job wouldn’t exist if it was. We're not there yet but this is one of the things we're working toward. You can create the Mount Holyoke you dream of."


  • 05 Jul 2010 11:49 AM | Anonymous member
    I'm excited to see this change. I was a housesitter at Eliana Ortega Cultural Center in the late 90s and was always concerned about underuse undermining the purpose of the safe spaces. The student feedback I got during reunion affirmed those concerns. I think the more attention and use the centers get, the more valued and funded they will be. The centers should be woven into the fabric of MHC. Tanya, I applaud your efforts to do this. The centers were a very important part of the support I needed to thrive at MHC.
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