Residence life approves offcampus house for Black students

Illustration by Aimi Dickel

For the first time in the College’s history, there will be an off-campus house exclusively for Black students. Approved for the fall of 2022, the yet-to-be-named house hopes to offer a space for Black students to find support and enjoy community.

Not a permanent honor house, the house hopes to gain a more long-term residency on St. Olaf Avenue after its first year.

The idea of creating a Black house has been circulating among students for years but had not previously received approval or enough momentum to be implemented. Following the events of last fall semester on campus, specifically  the 7 Feet for 7 Shots march, co-founders and co-presidents of the approved house Evie Slater ’22, Mannie Bioh ’22 and Isaiah Fitz ’22 saw the immediate need for a physical space for Black students to gather in community.

“It’s always been an idea, and after everything that happened last fall, specifically at St. Olaf, we all just said I wish we had a place to go,” Slater said.

“I hope the house can be a unifier for the Black community on campus,” Bioh said. “We want the house to help create a better experience for Black students on this campus.”

After presenting the idea to the Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life Pamela McDowell, Former Vice President of Equity and Inclusion Bruce King, Interim Vice President of Equity and Inclusion and Director of the Taylor Center María Pabón Gautier and Assistant Dean of Students for Programming and Assessment and Junior Class Dean Joshua Lee, the house was approved by the group for one year due to the uncertainty of housing plans surrounding the recent Ole Avenue Housing project. Slater and Bioh hope the College will see the value and importance of a permanent Black house following the inaugural year.

“We know one of the battles is going to be sustaining this house,” Slater said. “That’s why we have concrete goals for our community.”

As part of the house’s goal of creating community, the House will host various events, working with other Black student organizations to advocate for racial equality, celebrate Black stories and create a more centralized Black community. The House hopes to provide a space for other organizations to host meetings and events for St. Olaf, creating a more accessible and utilized space.

While there are some resources on campus available to BIPOC students, the importance of physical space like a house is crucial for the wellbeing, health and success of Black students, Slater and Bioh said.

“If you don’t have that support circle, it can become very draining, very disheartening,” Bioh said. “So I want this house to be a safe haven for those who feel burnt out.”

As an Admissions Fellow, Slater sees the house as an opportunity to recruit and support prospective Black students and connect first-year students to on campus organizations.

“One of the biggest issues we talk about in Admissions is getting students connected to specific orgs that will help them feel welcomed on campus,” Slater said. “That’s something we want to do with the Black house, get everyone together so it’s a fun space to meet each other and make friends.”

The co-founders also anticipate working with the Northfield community to provide mentorships and to build relationships with Black students in the area.

The House’s location is still to be determined. In total, eight students will live in the house, and the co-presidents will select the group of residents for the first year. If the house remains on campus beyond next year, applications will be open to all Black students.

“For many Black students, we just want a home. St. Olaf advertises itself as a home or a community and I think for a lot of us we have had to create a home. If we have a house it will create a home, a set home,” Bioh said.