By Steffi Feldman
Haverford College is currently facing questions of race relations and cultural identity on campus as the Office of Multicultural Affairs leads negotiations to re-interpret the usage of the Ira Reid House, the current home of the Black Cultural Center on campus.
For approximately the last thirty years, the Ira Reid House has been used by the Black Cultural Center for student housing and space devoted to the needs of African American students at Haverford. It has been the meeting place of the Black Student League (The BSL), the Sons of Africa, and events aimed at the interests of similar clubs and organizations.
Ira Reid, the building’s namesake was described by Theresa Tenusan, Dean of Multicultural Affairs at Haverford as “the epitome of a public intellectual… His life and work was really emblematic of what it means to be a scholar and an activist.” Reid was a mentor and a teacher to Martin Luther King as well as numerous other civil rights leaders and. He was also sociologist who did transformative work on Haverford’s campus.
However, the Ira Reid House has been in need of renovation for some time, including making the house handicapped accessible, installing central air conditioning and the re-purposing of certain spaces as gallery and seminar meeting areas. In order for renovations to be enacted however, a considerable sum of money needs to be allocated for the task.
Yet the opportunity to get access to funding comes with certain conditions and stipulations attached. The building would have to house the newly created Office of Academic Resources along with a writing center office. These installments were supposed to be located to Ryan Gym but renovations on the gym have been delayed. According to Tensuan “[What] we’re trying to figure out in this moment of transition, [is] how do we insure that we maintain the integrity of [the Ira Reid House] while providing housing for the Office of Academic Resources,” said Tensuan.
The projected date of construction is the beginning of June and renovations are estimated to continue into the following year. It still remains to be seen whether the transformation of the house into office spaces will be permanent.
Another pertinent question is whether the six students who live in the Ira Reid House will be asked to relocate elsewhere permanently. The temporariness of the arrangement will be decided in March when the Ira Reid Advisory council—comprised of students, alumni, faculty, and staff—present their ongoing vision to the Alumni Associative Council. “There are some very strong opinions in both directions,” said Tensuan.
Tensuan noted that the house has been a refuge for students of color throughout Haverford’s history but some students have mixed feelings on its relevance in the present day. “We have something like 30% students of color and a huge chunk of that is also international and Asian students. In regards to black students on campus….there’s this sense that we’re not as culturally diverse as we think,” said Shadae Beale HC ’14, who is a Ira Reid House resident and co-president of the BSL.
Haverford student Zack Woerner HC ’13 thinks that the college is divided up into certain distinct groups. “I think it’s a very tolerant community but there’s still a sense of disconnection,” he said. “We interact with people in certain ways but it can be hard to branch out.”
Jasmin Palmer HC ’15 however, does not necessarily see Haverford students as separated by their racial and cultural groups. “[Race] isn’t really talked about… Equality is assumed rather than practiced. I don’t feel that it’s a huge identity to the campus but it is there.”
“Recognition of race is only important to a certain extent,” said Beale. “We want to be able to appreciate other cultures as well as just always celebrating our own…. I definitely think that we would be selling ourselves short if we were to just stick to our respective groups.”
The Ira Reid House has always been open to the interests of any cultural groups on campus. “I do think that if the Ira Reid House was used by more people and that created more interaction between different groups, then it would be really productive,” said Beale. “If we found a way of welcoming people…then it would be really beneficial and [we could] accomplish what we want to do.”