Honor houses reach community

Many students find themselves overwhelmed by the diverse selection of student organizations at the annual Co-Curricular Fair. However, a stroll down Ole Avenue reveals a whole new set of opportunities for exciting events and worldly education: the St. Olaf honor houses.

This year’s service honor houses include the Be. Active. Project, the Gender Equality and Empowerment House and the Poetry House, among others. To form an honor house, students must propose a service project to Residence Life in the spring. Students look to Northfield and the St. Olaf community for inspiration for their projects.

One of this year’s groups is the Jewish Service and Community Outreach House, also known as the Shalom Home.

“We really needed an outlet for students to learn about different cultures, and having a house is a safe, consistent place where you can go to learn about the Jewish tradition,” Rachel Palermo ’15, a Shalom Home resident, said.

The Jewish community on campus is small, but the Shalom Home residents said they found inspiration for the house when they attended Jewish Student Organization JSO meetings. They wanted to learn more about the Jewish religion and practices.

The Shalom Home kicked off the year with a Rosh Hashanah celebration which drew about 100 attendees. The house will serve Kosher meals for all Jewish holidays and host Shabbat dinners twice a month.

The house’s goal is to facilitate an open environment for Jewish students and educate the St. Olaf community about Jewish practices.

“A lot of people here are Lutheran and don’t know much about other religions,” Brittany Murphy ’15, who also lives in the Shalom Home, said.

The Hunger House, located on Lincoln Avenue, is another group making its presence known after holding a barbecue kickoff event this past weekend. The house aims to educate St. Olaf students andto reach out to the Northfield community about the problem of hunger.

“We want to work on starting conversations about hunger and getting over the misconception that hunger is only in the third world,” Linde Sundell ’14 said.

Sundell, the house’s co-president, stressed the salience of hunger issues in Northfield. According to Sundell, 475 Northfield families use the local food shelf, and the Northfield Food Shelf distributes 38,000 pounds of food each month. The group also hopes to fight the stigma against food stamps and create a more accepting environment for the less fortunate.

“Acquiring food is a basic human need, and you shouldn’t have to feel bad for needing assistance in doing so,” Melissa Songpitak ’14, a Hunger House resident, said.

Honor house projects also include a service component, and the Hunger House plans to fulfill this aspect of their project by working with the food shelter and churches and schools in Northfield. Upcoming events will likely include trick-or-treating for food instead of candy on Halloween and a “Hunger Games” event in the spring.

Another group, the Edward Said House, revolves around the Balkans and the Middle East.

According to Edward Said House resident Dorontinë Berishaj ’15, events will encompass both cultural and political aspects of the regions.

“We’re planning to have music, food, art, calligraphy [and] belly dancing,” Berishaj said. “[These are] maybe stereotypical things, but at the same time we’re trying to break whatever’s stereotypical about them.”

Berishaj and her fellow residents were motivated to form the Edward Said House after last year’s numerous race-based controversies on campus, especially the one concerning student opinions of the situation in Gaza. She hopes the house can serve as a hub for education and discussion about these issues.

“We are a really loud house, and we want to keep it this way,” Berishaj said. “We want to be heard.”

While the Shalom Home and the Hunger House reach out to communities in the Twin Cities and Northfield, the Edward Said House’s focus is on students, primarily at St. Olaf, Carleton College and Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. The house has contacted students at other schools to form a network and plan events like student-led panels.

Other service honor house projects include the Creativity for Community House, the Wendell Berry House, the Catholic Women House and the St. Olaf Queer Support and Outreach House.

While there is always an endless selection of events on campus, passionate honor house students who spread their ideas to Northfield and beyond open up a new realm of educational possibilities.

Photo by Valentina Yang