Special interest housing seeks more proactive community building on campus

(Rachael Meyer / The Tufts Daily) International House is pictured on Nov. 26.

Sixteen different special interest houses exist on the Tufts campus. While the upcoming Capen Village project plans to expand themed housing and broaden social spaces at Tufts, residents of several existing special interest houses — as well Tufts Community Union President Benya Kraus — have recognized blocks in engaging students campus-wide and are committed to further community building.

Colin Trimmer, a junior and house manager of the Crafts House, described his experience.

“I first found out through public events, parties and art-making. I had a really good time and met new people,” he said. “It was natural for me to want to live there. It’s been a great positive change in my life. It’s made me learn a lot about how I want to live and confront American sociology.”

Crafts House is known as a food cooperative where all residents are responsible for the purchase, preparation and cleanup of meals.

“It’s through those dinners that we gather together,” Trimmer said.

Residents of the Crafts House are also dedicated to the operation of the Crafts Center, which was originally located in the basement of the house but was relocated to Lewis Hall. The center is open to all Tufts students interested in arts and crafts. Trimmer said it is only natural for the Crafts Center to be entirely student-run by the residents.

“We look for people who are progressive, who are looking to be active in their community. We also try to take it a step further and bring our force to the campus. We also love to make things,” Trimmer said.

Crafts House also hosts events open to the Tufts community. Trimmer mentioned the recent ‘Chosen Family’ event, an annual tradition where residents of the Crafts House cook a large meal open to anyone.

“It’s a pretty radical thing. We spend the whole day bonding and cooking,” Trimmer said. “Putting on large events, we are able to do something for the community. We’re interested in surveying a larger population. I personally love it when people are part of the community but don’t even live in the house. We call them ‘satellites,’ people who are always in the house doing things, having projects. It’s really pleasant.”

Similarly to the Crafts House, the International House often hosts events such as pumpkin carving and barbecues. Senior Sopuruchukwu Ezenwa, the manager of the International House, hopes to continue planning such events.

“We were thinking of some discussion events. For me, things that relate to me, I think would be more of the struggles of being an international student here and struggles of being an international community — things like immigration,” Ezenwa said. “Even if you’re a citizen, what are your perceptions or are you affected by immigration in any way?”

Ezenwa emphasized the International House’s openness to the community and its hope to serve as a place of comfort for anybody.

“The history of the I-House has always been not just international students, it’s everyone. We have people from different identities, so we do not exclude,” Ezenwa said. “That means all our events are open to anyone, even if it’s more of a private event. If you show up and you want to be in this event, you’re fine.”

Junior Trenton Manns,resident of the Japanese Language House and previous International House resident, decided to apply for the Japanese Language House for his third academic year in preparation for his study abroad in Kanazawa, Japan. Much like the Crafts House and International House, the Japanese House also seeks to cultivate Japanese culture and community building through open events.

“The house is supposed to have at least one event once a semester centered around Japanese culture,” Manns said. “This year it was onigiri-making, which is like a rice-ball dish. There are also chat times that happen throughout the week where people who don’t live in the house can come in and practice with one of the people who speak upper-level Japanese.”

Manns, now a two-time resident of special interest housing, commented on his positive experiences.

“You meet so many cool, interesting people that you never have met before,” he said. “It’s also just nice to come home to a different environment than what your friend circle is like, you can just go back and think about other things.”

Despite currently hosting open events with their special interest houses, Trimmer, Ezenwa and Manns all voiced concerns about a need for more proactive community building.

“We need to do a better job. We could be doing a better job to help people find these communities and have access to these places. People who live in these houses need to be active and engaged,” Trimmer said.

Ezenwa expressed similar opinions specifically for the International House.

“I think what I’m looking forward to in the future is to be more efficient in putting up events. I think we need to put out more,” Ezenwa said.

Manns hopes his current house becomes a more open space for community members.

“I wish that J-House would do more in terms of reaching out and getting more people in. I think it can be more proactive,” he said. “I would love to see people coming into the J-House and just chilling around.”

Kraus offered her opinion of special interest houses on campus through electronic message, stating their potential value to the entire Tufts community.

“I think that the current special interest housing system offers a lot of niche community-building opportunities from communal living, hosting parties, cooking shared dinners, offering language practice, etc,” she said. “These are amazing initiatives and I think the challenge now is to see how we can expand the accessibility, visibility, and accountability of these events so that the entire Tufts community can feel like they are a part of these communal and shared social cultures.”

When asked about how the special interest houses could reach out to the Tufts community in different ways than they are currently, Kraus brought up a flaw in the systematic processes for these houses.

“We need to make their processes for application, hosting, and advertising events a lot more streamlined,” she said. “For some houses, they are unable to completely fill their beds easily. The application process looks different for each house, and as a result, it’s largely difficult to navigate and even find out about these housing opportunities.”

Consequently, Kraus advocated for a reassessment in how special interest housing currently operates, stating that she would like to explore a themed system that changes every year depending on the needs of the Tufts community while also creating more social options.

“There needs to be a greater degree of accountability — are you living up to behavioral standards? Are you giving back to the greater Tufts community?” Kraus said. “I think what often happens with institutionalized housing is that access to physical space becomes a right instead of a privilege.”

Kraus is not suggesting an end to existing special interest housing, but instead an expansion of their opportunities.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean an end to all the themed housing we currently have,” she said. “Rather, it is an opportunity for all special interest housing to gain further support in connecting to the Tufts community and to showcase the great ways they are already building community.”

According to Trimmer, special interest houses currently have an e-list where emails about events hosted by each house are sent out, welcoming other students to attend. Trimmer asserted that these sorts of actions need to be taken by special interest houses.

“I think open and social events are key to small group housing. You’ve got an experience bigger than yourself and you can use that for positive things,” Trimmer said. “I heard it used to be more dynamic in the past. I don’t think so. I think more than ever, in this current social climate, they’re needed.”


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