The Future of Ubuntu

For the the past three years, the program house Ubuntu has resided at 34 Lawn Ave. Yet despite a petition to ResLife with over 1,900 signatures, Ubuntu will not be returning in the 2020-21 year.

On June 7, Noah Langat ’20 posted a petition by the African Students Association (ASA) on WesAdmits 2021 with the following message:

Hello friends.
Reslife decided to close Ubuntu House, a house that my fellow African students and I called home.
Ubuntu means “I am because we are”.
It was a place where we held meetings, cooked together, and hosted events.
Reslife took that away from us. I find it suspicious that they decided to do this during a pandemic so that they can avoid the heat but we won’t let them off the hook.
They did so with just a few days’ notice.
Wesleyan University continuously sends us emails of “support” but its time they walk the talk.
Please this petition to demand that Reslife reinstate Ubuntu.

Nothing to do with the story, just trying to break up these big blocks of text.

The petition goes on to detail the history of the house, which was established for the 2017-2018 school year with efforts from the ASA, which has organized campus events such as ARIYA, INDABA, and Taste of Africa. But according to the petition, Ubuntu was “set from the beginning to fail” due to a lack of singles (which made the house less desirable for potential boarders). The petition also states that “this action by Reslife to take down Ubuntu House is unfortunate and emblematic of a bigger problem at Wesleyan where the needs of minority groups are constantly ignored.”

Read the full text of the petition here

Please support the African Students Association (ASA) to register our uttermost displeasure at the decision taken by Reslife to discontinue Ubuntu House. We are really saddened (but not shocked) by this development.

We are calling for Ubuntu House to be reinstated.

This decision by Reslife to discontinue Ubuntu House is one example of how African students at Wesleyan have constantly been treated as an insignificant part of the Wesleyan Community. It took our predecessors years of fighting to secure a house we can call our own: our home. Despite their best effort, Reslife provided them a house with just one single, knowing very well the difficulties that they will face in filling the house year after year. In a way, we were set from the beginning to fail. It is not surprising that when we were not able to fill the house in the middle of a coronavirus crisis, Reslife promptly called for Ubuntu House to be closed with just a few days’ notice.

ASA has been a community that has demanded very little from Wesleyan despite our immense contributions to this school. All we asked for was a place where we can call home away from home and Ubuntu House provided that. For the past three years that Ubuntu house has existed, it has served as a glue that unites the African students on campus. It has become a sanctuary for many African students who travel thousands of miles to come to Wesleyan to school. Ubuntu House is also where we hold our meetings and put together events that promote African culture on campus. For the past two years, the house has also taken on significance as an event venue for African Studies on campus. To close down Ubuntu is to ignore the purpose it serves and to turn a death ear to the needs of the African community on campus. We can name a handful of houses on campus that are better positioned with lots of singles that do not come close to Ubuntu House in terms of significance or contributions to the Wesleyan community.

All we are asking for is to be appreciated and Reslife’s actions have not demonstrated that we are valued as a minority group on campus. Despite the fact that we put on various events, such as ARIYA, INDABA, Taste of Africa, and so forth which have become staple events on Wesleyan campus, we are still not treated as valued members of the Wesleyan community.

Ubuntu means “I AM BECAUSE WE ARE” and has been a home for Africans and other groups on campus. It is a motto we leave by every single day.

This action by Reslife to take down Ubuntu House is unfortunate and emblematic of a bigger problem at Wesleyan where the needs of minority groups are constantly ignored. We have seen and heard stories of how our African faculties are woefully underappreciated. Despite Wesleyan’s proclaimed commitment to diversity, we can name the African faculties on campus on the fingers of one hand. The African Studies at Wesleyan continues to be stagnated and under-resourced. It is time Wesleyan lived up to its reputation as a home for diversity and it begins with paying attention to the needs of minority groups on campus.

We get all these emails from Wesleyan assuring us of their “support” but we demand the school to walk the talk and actually start supporting minority groups on campus.

Our plea is for the African community on campus to be taken seriously and this begins with the reinstating of Ubuntu House. We are asking for a much better house with enough singles to make it easier to fill the house year after year.

 

Part of the plea stemmed from the suddenness of the closure. ResLife and the Undergraduate Residential Life Committee (URLC) typically closes houses after two semesters of “provisional” status — which is based on a point system that evaluates a program house’s performance, and includes criteria such as event programming, community standards, and occupancy rates. At this point, Ubuntu had not received a semester of provisional status.

But according to evaluation guidelines, “The Office of Residential Life reserves the right to recommend provisional status or elimination of any Program Houses for egregious concerns in any of the above categories, regardless of the house’s point standing.”

2/3

Although ResLife and the URLC found that Ubuntu accomplished its program mission through campus events, they ultimately decided to close the house due to lack of applications.

According to Area Coordinator Stephanie Lewis, seven of the nine Ubuntu residents would have be boarders in Fall 2020, which raised concerns about Ubuntu’s capabilities to continue fulfilling its mission. The program house Lighthouse was shut down for similar concerns. Lewis says that “we have every intention of working with students in the fall to regenerate interest, and to reopen both program houses in 2021-22, when more students apply to live in those spaces.”

Read an excerpt of Stephanie Lewis's email to Wesleying

The residents of the house and the house manager (HM) consistently hosted relevant, mission-based events for themselves and the larger Wesleyan community, fulfilled departmental expectations, and created deep connections with staff and faculty.

The most significant factor in the decision to close Ubuntu for the 2020-2021 year was that too few students applied to live in the house. The same challenge arose for Lighthouse, which is also closed for the upcoming year.

On March 25th, 2020, the application process opened for program houses, Copenhagens, WestCo, and Writer’s Block. All applications were due April 3rd. Some of these communities had low application numbers, (Ubuntu had not received any applications at that point) so the deadline was extended to April 10th. By April 10th, Ubuntu had received only two applications, despite tremendous recruitment efforts by both the current and future HMs. One of those applications was strong, but that applicant was accepted to their first choice house.

With only an HM and one resident, the house would have been dominated by borders, or students who did not apply to the house but were assigned there. Students who applied to program houses in hopes it would be a safe place for them have told us it no longer felt like one when the majority of residents were borders. It also is extremely difficult to work towards the mission of the house with only two students dedicated to that cause. Therefore, the decision was made to close the house for the coming year.

We have every intention of working with students in the fall to regenerate interest, and to reopen both program houses in 2021-22, when more students apply to live in those spaces. I look forward to that, as I have seen the importance of the community and the impact that Ubuntu makes here at Wes.

 

Almost done!

ResLife also responded to the ASA’s petition via email, which said that 34 Lawn was the most desired location available at the time due to their policy that prevents existing program houses from being displaced. ResLife also mentions that the lack of single rooms is a challenge many program houses face.

Noah Langat (who created the petition) responded with the following message that also details his thoughts on how to preserve Ubuntu:

According to the students who fought to get this house, 34 Lawn was the best “among the worst” choices. It is not surprising that it was a program house before it shut down and was given to Ubuntu.

An analogy that best describes this situation is if someone gave you a Mercedes but from the 1920s. Yes, it is a Mercedes, but who drives a car from the 1920s anymore? According to the alumni, the house was destined to fail right from the beginning.

The first step that we want the university to take is to reinstate the house. Second, just as they easily turned it into a senior house, they should be willing to let go of the “double room” requirement. This is a structural change that shows the commitment to the existence of the house.

Yeah, that’s all I got on this. Stay safe, y’all.