Black, international, interfaith, sustainable TAPSI houses to be implemented next year

Tali Natter and Benjamin Alexander

For the 2022-2023 school year, Wood House will be home to the Gail Peek House, a TAPSI house exploring the experience of Black people at the College. (Samuel Riley/The Williams Record)

The Office of Residential Life and Housing approved four Theme/Affinity/Program/Special Interest (TAPSI) houses for the 2022-2023 academic year. Gail Peek House — a house exploring the experience of Black people at the College — will be located in Wood House, The International House will be located in Perry House, Williams Interfaith Dialogue will be located in Spencer House, and the Sustainable Living Community (SLC) will be on the second floor of Garfield House, Senior Associate Dean of Campus Life Doug Schiazza wrote in a Feb. 14 all-campus email.

In March 2021, the College first introduced TAPSI housing following decades of student activism in favor of affinity housing. For the 2021-2022 school year, the Sustainable Living Lab (SLL), which is currently located in Hubbell House, was the only TAPSI proposal and house.

Director of Residential Life and Housing Patricia Leahey-Hays wrote in an email to the Record that they received four proposals for TAPSI houses for the 2022- 2023 academic year, and all four were reviewed by the TAPSI committee and approved.

To organize a TAPSI house, students must fill out a proposal through the Office of Campus Life describing the mission, identity, or lifestyle that the house hopes to support, and gather at least 30 signatures of students who may be interested in living there.

Once approved, the proposers will serve as Community Coordinators (CCs) who are tasked with creating programming that furthers the house’s mission as well as other responsibilities traditionally fulfilled by HCs.

Students interested in living in a TAPSI house will fill out a brief application that will be reviewed by the same committee that approved the TAPSI houses as well as the CCs prior to the general lottery. “The vision that the community coordinators have for the house is an essential part of determining which students are selected and we wanted to make sure that the student leaders are a part of that process,” Leahey- Hayes wrote.

There are currently students living in Hubbell who did not originally apply to live in the SLL, due to a shortage of rooms elsewhere on campus. Leahey-Hayes said this may happen again next year if there are not enough students who apply to live in a TAPSI house and the houses have remaining empty rooms. “However, students must agree to the mission, goals and residential contract before selecting into the TAPSI space,” Leahey-Hayes wrote.

She also emphasized that the TAPSI spaces are inclusive to all students who agree to the mission and residential contract of the space, regardless of their personal identities.

The Gail Peek House is named after the first tenured Black woman professor at the College. Temisan Ekperigin ’25 said they plan to live in the house next year and explained the significance of this development. “It’s rare that you could see an entire dorm dedicated to an identifier, let alone one that’s as important as race or ethnicity,” they said. “It will strengthen the campus as a whole, reminding students that all parts of their identity are equally valuable and treasured.”

Ekperigin said they are excited to use the house as a hub for affinity groups. “I know this will be a great gathering spot during Black History Month, especially, when we can all convene to celebrate ourselves and our history,” they said. “When the classroom learning is over, it’s a comfort to be surrounded by people who have had similar experiences to you,” they said.

Jiwoo Han ’25, an international student from Korea, will be one of the CCs for The International House. Like Ekperigin, Han emphasized the importance of having a space for people from similar backgrounds.

“Navigating [international] identity and sharing some of the common international conflicts or hardships that internationals face was important to me,” Han said. “I thought that having a house and a very concrete location where internationals can gather and share those ideas and emotions would be a good addition to this campus.”

Han’s International House co-CC, Abraham Paik ’25, is an Ohio native, not an international student, though he said he feels a sense of belonging with internationals on campus. “I always felt sort of a greater affinity towards the international community than the domestic community considering that both my parents are immigrants,” Paik said.

Han and Paik plan to host many events centered around food, such as international cooking and international snacks, as well as international movie nights, dance events, storytimes, and language tables.

Evan Chester ’23 and Zia Saylor ’23, who are both involved in Jewish life on campus, will serve as CCs for the Williams Interfaith Dialogue.

They both emphasized the rise in interfaith activity on campus, and the desire to keep these conversations active. Saylor said that “so many of the [interfaith] events would be ending just as I felt like we had reached an emotional space that was incredibly connected, and I realized that one way to foster this community while forging deeper bonds might be to propose a TAPSI house that was dedicated to just interfaith dialogue.”

Chester shared that the TAPSI house is an opportunity for students to “gain a greater exposure to a more religious environment at Williams that reflects personal daily life instead of specifically to religious events,” he said.

Many of Chester and Saylor’s planned events will center around dialogues across religions as well as regular religious experiences, like short prayer sessions or organizing alums from different religious backgrounds to speak with the house’s residents. 

There is no religious requirement for students who are interested in living in the Interfaith House. “It’s really just about having an interest in religious life on campus and an interest in engaging with this sort of dialogue,” Chester said. “You don’t have to have any sort of faith or anything. You just have to be willing to come to the table.”

Next school year, Rebekah Lindsay ’25 and Gus Demerath ’25 will serve as CCs of the SLC. 

Lindsay told the Record that she heard about the SLC from the leader of her Root program, an Ephventures option that focuses on sustainability and social justice, and decided to get involved as a CC. “I was interested in building … a community of people who were interested in environmental issues, whether or not they had lots of experience with it,” she said. “[SLC is] focusing on how do we build community and how do we encourage each other to be better stewards of the environment?”

The SLC was called the Sustainable Living Lab (SLL) throughout the 2021-2022 school year. The name change for next year is meant to reflect a shift in direction, Lindsay said.

“[SLL] was the first version because it was [about] starting something new and experimenting,” Lindsay said. “This year, we hope to focus mostly on community aspects to explore environmentally conscious living practices and also how we can make change on campus.” 

Moving to Garfield — a newer, more sustainable building — is part of that transition, she added, noting that Hubbell “didn’t fit the needs of a community trying to be sustainable.”

In addition to TAPSI, other buildings’ roles on campus will change for the 2022-2023 academic year. Instead of housing first-years, Lehman Hall will serve as Quiet Housing for upperclass students. Gladden House will serve as winter break housing. Hubbell will be used as quarantine housing, as it was during the 2020-2021 academic year, and has been removed from the general lottery for this upcoming year. Thompson Hall has also been removed from the lottery for maintenance.

Leahey-Hayes added there will be no doubles lottery for the 2022-2023 year, though it may return for future years. Instead, the number of flex rooms for upperclass students will rise to 120, as compared to 45 this year, all of which are expected to be used as doubles.

The general housing lottery will close on Feb. 23. Each pick group in the lottery can include up to six students. Students who applied to be Housing Coordinators should still enter into the lottery, and pull-ins for Housing Coordinators can be assigned prior to room draw. 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Gail Peek House as an affinity house for Black students. It is actually a house that will explore the experience of Black people at the College.