Reimagining Our Community: The Fight for a Black House

By Arsima Araya

“How can we have a Black House, if we can’t even have a Black meal,” –Charles Hendon, 25 

This scolding, yet endearing, quote is all I can think about when asked to write a preface to the report on the Black House campaign that I have the honor of forerunning out of two of the premier Black student RSOs: Organization of Black Students (OBS) and the African and Caribbean Student Association (ACSA). Charles Hendon, a brilliant French and Spanish major and aspiring educator, is referring to me not coming to fourth meal. Every night, a significant majority of the on campus Black students get together late at night to catch up, talk, and just be in the presence of one another. It’s nothing too formal, it’s always “come as you are.” We’ll softly play music, while someone else asks the group ridiculous questions that start the most heated debate, and everyone is in shock when the food is actually good. It is an integral part of our day and even when I’m busy it’ll be Charles reminding me to show up. This is about as close as Black students on campus get to having a space for ourselves. We borrow, occupy, and thrive in the rooms of McCormick Lounge and the Center for Identity and Inclusion, but this enjoyment is finite. When the clock strikes or room reservations get canceled, we are left to our own devices. Scrambling to organize nights in our lounge and coordinate party arrivals to make sure we can celebrate the end of midterms together. These temporary homes are what define the Black student experience. This reality precedes us and alumni will be quick to remind us that we got the better end of it. However, it is no longer enoughand never was. 

In April 2022, the OBS Action Committee launched a campaign for the establishment of a Black Student House on campus due to the lack of a designated affinity space  for Black students. After three failed attempts to do so, the Black UChicago community has organized in unprecedented ways, with the community alongside us providing their narratives and expertise to ensure we are creating a house that does not only serve Black UChicagoans, but our neighbors in the South Side.

“The UChicago Bubble” is a euphemism for what is the cage of UChicago and a barrier to our neighbors in the South Side. If you take a moment to look at the archive between UChicago and the community, it is as early as 1936 in the Chicago Defender, that residents petitioned to have the University bar access to housing for people of color. In 1995, the Law School had a ten-foot barbed wire fence to bar Woodlawn residents from even imagining what the interior of a world class University could offer them. The story as it’s currently written between UChicago and the South Side is entrenched in racist policy and practices.

This house will strive to rewrite this story in our next chapter, burst the UChicago bubble, and restore the fractured relationship with our neighbors in the South Side. It is of  utmost importance to us, the Black UChicago community tends to these wounds and gashes done at the hands of the University. However, we cannot task ourselves with this labor without access to the plentiful resources of UChicago. Consistent organizing and advocacy will be required even after the house’s establishment, which is why this campaign is run collaboratively by OBS, ACSA, and the Black UChicago community, as well as our neighbors in the South Side. This project extends beyond academic education to political and critical consciousness to analyze the layers of harm and history that will be undone under the roof of our house. 

The story I am telling you today is what the facts are. You cannot dispute the harm done, and it is up to us to reimagine and advocate for a university we can all be proud of. This is and always will be a collective effort unable to achieve fruition or success without the investment of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. The Black House will house the next generation of dreamers, creatives, academics, and they will know this was a labor of love and dedication of so many amazing and empowered Black people. I wish you plenty of laughs, cries, revolutions (small or large) and I know y’all better not leave it a mess either!