The Importance of Black Affinity Housing at AU
By Joey Krassner
As a high school student, I remember researching different universities for hours at a time trying to find “the one” that best fit my academics. I was never truly concerned about social life since I grew up in an environment surrounded by students whose primary concern was getting into an academically prestigious college. Social life to me meant nothing and I’m sure it didn’t concern most of you until you went to college. But for most people, the next step is easy; You make friends and participate in clubs, Greek life, and other things that make you feel as if you’re a part of a community. In turn these communities make you a vital part of the college you attend which makes you a representative of the college you attend.
But what happens if who you are and the community you’re apart of feels threatened by the university they attend. Though the university tries to provide safety for all communities, it seems as if it’s enforced for some. While I can’t speak on behalf of the black community, I imagine that it’s difficult for black students at AU to feel 100% safe following the video of black student being forcefully removed from university housing or the video of a white student justifying the use of the n-word while simultaneously using it in front of POC students in Anderson Hall. Furthermore, the emails that follow these incidents further instill a sense of indifference the university has towards the feelings experienced among the black community. Though it seems as if being a POC and attending AU acknowledges that in the most intimate spaces, safety can never be guaranteed, members of the black community broke ground recently in the form of black affinity housing.
I had the privilege of interviewing Eric Brock, the AU student who created the petition for Black Affinity Housing just last year, to learn more about the housing and how it fits within a large framework for POC visibility at AU. For those of you who don’t know, in Fall 2020, self-identifying black students will have the opportunity to apply to an all-black residence hall (located at Roper Hall). 59 self-identifying black students will live in a renovated Roper, complete with new carpeting, a new lounge space, a new kitchen, and everything you’d expected with a newly renovated hall with one pleasant twist; all the artwork, furniture, and murals will be picked by the students. As mentioned by Eric, the idea was to, “… create a space to celebrate and reconvene as a culture.”
This is not to say that the process of obtaining housing was straightforward. As mentioned earlier, the idea of Black Affinity Housing was put forth into motion after Eric released a petition for black housing. After only a week, 1,000 people had signed the petition, obviously indicating student interest, but according to Eric, initial pushback was both present and expected following the petition. This is because AU has always been a mixed bag when it comes to student feedback, especially regarding big ticket issues. For example, AU listened when we gave negative feedback on our old dining provider Aramark by changing to a new provider, Chartwells, however, AU fell short when addressing problems related to the Student Health Center and Student Counseling as indicated through a sardonic student-wide email that blamed students for scheduling issues.
I don’t personally doubt that the university actively seeks to solve the big issues that surround our campus and I’m confident that the issues present on our campus are not exclusive to our university. But our campus is rooted in history by individuals who are highly motivated by international affairs, politics, and fostering change within these two realms. After all, who goes into politics with the assumption that everything is fine? Nobody. That’s why it should be expected that every mistake and incident marked by the university will be highly publicized among students. But for all the crap the university receives for it handles its mistakes, students should know that how they interpret and respond to incidents and other campus issues matter as well. Those who ignore and/or ostracize students affected by AU’s systemic issues or downplay POC students for inflating a lack of assumed privilege feed into the problem. Afterall, students played a major role in the designation of affinity housing (They signed the petition!)
On a final note, we need to remember that the Black Affinity Housing is still an ongoing process with details still being ironed out the students who are going to live there. The important thing is that students who live in this residence hall will have the ability to control its future. It’s incredible, but as mentioned by Eric, it’s only a first step. Yes, the housing will help unify a community that experienced troubling amounts of racism both on and off campus, but to truly understand the problem, we need to use our critical lens and see the structure that has historically discriminated against POC communities. Whether it’s unaffordable tuition or lack of diversity, these issues will not be solved by housing alone. They require a deeper look into the operations of our university and changes that current students might not see within their time at AU. But the uphill battle never stops because students like Eric know that complacency will never be good enough.