On the need for affinity housing

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Creating space for minoritized students

On Friday, the Coalition Against Racist Education (CARE) Now released an open letter to the Board of Trustees with a list of 12 demands calling upon the College’s trustees to fulfill their “obligation to the well-being and safety of its students, faculty and staff.” A group of student activists seeking to continue “in the legacy of Black-led organizing efforts on the Williams College campus,” CARE Now was formed last year, its name recognizing the original CARE movement that occupied Jenness House in 1988. CARE Now’s letter indicates ways in which students believe the College can work toward making the College a less harmful place for those of marginalized identities and to take steps toward becoming a more inclusive institution. Each of CARE Now’s demands deserves serious consideration and a thorough response from the Board of Trustees. We at the Record, while acknowledging that we do not hold any form of moral authority on the matter, look to CARE Now’s leadership as we collectively examine how to combat institutional violence at the College.

A failure by the Board to respond would be indicative of the very institutional negligence to which CARE Now draws attention. Affinity housing, the third of CARE Now’s 12 demands, has been advocated for by students as early as 1969, when the Afro-American Society, which occupied Hopkins Hall in demonstration, named affinity housing as one of its demands. The College did not respond to the Afro-American Society’s demands and has continually ignored such demands. In the past year alone, a discussion at a Black Student Union (BSU) town hall meeting in November, as well as an op-ed by Alia Richardson ’19 (“A case for affinity housing: Why the College should reconsider the housing system,” Nov. 14, 2018), discussed the organization of student housing around common identities. The longevity of this issue demonstrates that the call for affinity housing will not extinguish over time, so long as the College fails to address the residential needs of the marginalized members of its community.

We at the Record wholeheartedly support establishing affinity housing at the College. As a community, we must recognize that the College is a predominantly white institution in which students of color often feel tokenized, both in their residences and more broadly on campus. Establishing affinity housing will not singlehandedly solve this problem, but it will assist in making the College a more welcoming, supportive and safe community for minoritized students. 

Some say affinity housing reinforces division, arguing that having minoritized students cluster in one space would be harmful to the broader campus community. We believe, however, that allowing for a space where students can express their identities without fear of tokenization or marginalization will encourage students to exist more freely in the broader campus community, rather than recede from it.

It should also be noted that there currently exists a de facto system of affinity housing among the predominantly white, upper-class athletes who reside on Spring Street and Hoxsey Street during their senior years. This point was brought to our attention Richardson’s op-ed: While these off-campus homes are rented on the private market and not a part of the housing lottery system, the fact that they serve as a place where teams can congregate while people of minoritized identities do not have an equivalent space is a cause for concern that can be resolved with affinity housing. 

Furthermore, affinity housing has successfully been implemented by many of the College’s peer institutions, including Amherst, Bates and Wesleyan. For those who believe that the College is too small to successfully implement affinity housing, or that it would lead to community disarray, the endurance of such houses at these similarly small, predominantly white schools is an important counterexample. 

We look forward to hearing from the Board of Trustees regarding affinity housing and CARE Now’s other demands. The bedrock of a healthy campus is a willingness of all members to center the most minoritized voices, and the action items raised by CARE deserve acknowledgement and a considered response from the Board.