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Despite changes, HBC serves as a safe haven for minority students

Staff February 15, 2013 News No Comments

By Spenser Hickey
Assistant Copy Editor

The House of Black Culture serves as a focal point for educating the Ohio Wesleyan community on Black history and issues, as well as a meeting place for the African-American community.

Named after Butler A. Jones, the University’s first African-American professor, the House of Black Culture was founded in 1970 by Pete Smith and Barbara McEachern Smith.

Smith and McEachern also started the Student Union on Black Awareness.

In 1970, there were only around 40 African-American students at Ohio Wesleyan, according to a Connect2OWU article on the Smiths.

HBC, known then as the Black House, was a “safe haven” for African-American students, said junior Lehlohonolo ‘Lucky’ Mosola, HBC’s Resident Adviser.

“Now, though, it’s used much more as a community meeting place for students in general, but specifically students in the African-American community,” Mosola said. “It’s certainly a focal point for the community now more than any kind of a protection.”

Terree Stevenson, Director of Multicultural Student Affairs, said she thought it has “the same [role] today as it was historically, and more so.”

She said it still serves as a safe haven for students to feel physically, emotionally, mentally, culturally and spiritually safe, as well as a programming space and historical reference for alumni who lived there.

“I think it’s a symbol of a long-standing opportunity for the university to create and support a place for students of color,” she said.

Mosola, currently in his second year at HBC, said he joined the House because his high school program provided little contact with other African-American students, something he wanted to make up for at OWU.
“After my freshman year, I got to know somebody who lived here, and I joined BMF (Black Men of the Future), which is a student organization I met a lot of people here through,” he said.

Freshman Jerrell James, who applied to live at HBC next year, said he sees it as “a common ground” where he can be himself.

Aaron Cameron, also a freshman, said he thinks it’s “a place where people can meet and converse and basically just have a good time, live life.”

Senior James Huddleston, HBC resident and co-president of BMF, said he sees the house as a place where he can let his guard down.

He credited living there with encouraging him to focus on academics.

Junior Shelby Alston said her sister, a graduate and former HBC resident at the time, introduced her to the house.

“I just instantly fell in love with this house,” she said. “It’s just this atmosphere is so welcoming and so open.”

She said many residents, past and present, are “big influences on this campus” as upperclassmen and African-Americans making “an impact and a difference.”

Junior Madeleine Leader said she’s excited to join HBC and live with people who “practice what they preach, and who live for what they’re passionate about.”

At the same time, she acknowledged that there is “a struggle” identifying with the African-American community as a white person, offering her Residential Life application to live at HBC as an example.

She said she’s been involved in activism for racial equality her whole life and is a member of SUBA and Vice President of Sisters United at Ohio Wesleyan.

“Being around people like this, you realize what you’re fighting for and why it’s so important to celebrate our differences and come together and keep fighting for them,” she said.

Leader said she identified with “being attacked for the person you are at your core” since she was ridiculed as a child for being a Jew.

She said there is “zero awareness” of how often students use racially-charged words.

“I’ve heard plenty of white students say the n-word to each other,” she said. “It’s just the obliviousness to what this community is about, especially on this campus, because they’re fighting for something, but the only thing they ever think about for BMF or the house is their parties. That’s offensive to me.”

Alston said being the House of Black Culture carries a certain stigma among the general community.
“I’ve heard people saying they’re afraid to come here, or will they get hurt if they come here [or] all we do is party,” she said.

“It hurts to see that this house has such a rich and unique legacy, and people only focus on the negative stuff or the stuff they see us for, like, ‘Oh, they throw awesome parties,’” she said.

“Well, what else have we done, besides parties, because we’ve done so much, and do you forget the events we’ve put on?”

Events they’ve held, she said, included a lecture by Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American high school students who initiated desegregation by attending a formerly all-white Arkansas school. Alston said Roberts “captivated the audience.”

While HBC was formed as a SLU, it made the transition to being a heritage theme house this year.

Mosola said the change came due to the SLU renewal process.

Each year, SLUs must apply for and earn renewal from the university or be shut down; however, Mosola said “the school said pretty much unequivocally that they weren’t going to shut the House of Black Culture down.”

This made it unfair for HBC, which wouldn’t be shut down, to be in the same category as houses that could be shut down. This distinction led to unnecessary work for HBC members.

Despite the change, Mosola said, practically it’s “very much similar,” but the house does less programs now, since not all members are required to plan individual events.

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