At Home on Campus

28 February 2023
By Amy Goetzman

In April, Carleton breaks ground on a student life and housing project that combines environmentally conscious living options with multicultural community spaces.

There is no barber in Northfield that keeps up with Black style trends or who specializes in textured hair. So, every few weeks, the Carleton student organization Men of Color brings a barber to campus.

“Haircut day is a big deal. It’s a really important part of our culture; when our hair looks good, we feel good about ourselves—and that extends to everything we do,” says Sammy Roman ’23, co-president of Men of Color (MoC). Right now, the math major says, the barber sets up a chair at Stimson House and gents from all over campus crowd into the residential house to get styled. And as word gets out about MoC, that crowd is growing.

Founded in the 1990s, MoC draws upwards of 60 people to its events, which include barber visits, off–campus outings, potlucks, and game nights. “We are still often the only person of color in the classroom, so when we have the opportunity to gather, it builds community and helps us see that we belong here and can have an impact,” says Roman. Finding a place to gather is a challenge, however. “Our events get shuffled around campus. When bad weather hit our fall cookout, we had to regroup at the Black House. We are constantly moving around campus, which makes it hard to host and find events.”

Architectural rendering of new campus housing

The Black cultural center (left) and the multicultural space (right).

The next wave of students of color will have a home base. In April 2023, Carleton breaks ground on the first phase of a long-planned student life and housing project that combines new living options with community spaces, including a Black student center and adjacent multicultural community space. When it opens in fall of 2024, the barber will have a dedicated space to set up shop, game nights will have a set time and location, and students of color will have a welcoming place to call home.

“We’ve always had interest houses at Carleton, where small groups of students with a common point of connection can live together, including Asia House, La Casa Del Sol for Latinx students, and Freedom House for Black students. BIPOC students have existed in these houses for decades; the diversity of our living spaces has been pretty impressive,” says vice president for student life and dean of students Carolyn Livingston. “However, our communities of color have grown in recent years. With the diversification of the student body, we have seen interest in developing more and enhancing dedicated cultural spaces on campus so all students feel more welcome and have additional opportunities to shape their college experience in meaningful ways.”

The project originated with the 2007 Report of Student Housing Capacities and Options and continued with the 2014 Facilities Master Plan, which identified a need to provide more housing units and options. Despite the addition of Cassat and James Halls in 2007 to reduce the number of students living off campus, Carleton still faces housing challenges. Some rooms have a higher occupancy number than desired, and in a few buildings the lounges have been converted into student rooms. The number of students applying for Northfield Option has not alleviated the constraints to current capacities, and several currently occupied campus houses do not lend themselves well to community living. To ease that pressure and enable everyone to fully engage, the college will create new spaces which will replace older units and increase the number of student residents on campus.

Another priority is to update buildings; the oldest campus housing dates to 1873, and some later structures haven’t aged well. It’s time to replace some of these units with new spaces that include air conditioning, and ADA accessibility and equity features. Carleton’s current student housing includes a mix of residence halls, converted single-family houses, and townhomes. The new housing will consist of modern multi-level townhomes clustered around a common courtyard area, with integrated community spaces. These housing types are especially favored by juniors and seniors and will ultimately comprise about 19 percent of all housing on campus.

The master plan’s stated goal is “to provide Carleton students with attractive, functional, and safe housing that is more than just a place to sleep, but rather a place to live, learn, and feel at home.” To fully realize that goal, the needs of an increasingly diverse student body came into focus. A fully accessible built environment will be more welcoming to students with disabilities. The inclusion of a new Black center and multicultural community space will provide meaningful settings for events, lectures, international student holiday celebrations, and other gatherings.

“Currently, common areas in the Williams and Stimson houses are used for Black students’ programs, but the number of students who attend them has grown, and students who live in those buildings have expressed a desire to separate these community spaces from their living spaces,” says Livingston. The dedicated Black center space will accommodate more people and provide a venue to permanently display historical college artifacts and design elements will reflect the African diaspora, as well as storage for materials used by student organizations for events such as the International Festival and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The multicultural space will be adjacent to the Black center and can accommodate many different uses. It can function as a meeting room and convert into a small performance space or studio. It will also have a kitchen stocked with culturally important spices and ingredients.

“Food is a big part of culture and community. Having a place where we can gather to cook the specific foods of our background or religion without judgment will be great; no one will think you are weird or your cooking smells bad,” says Roman. “There is a campus tradition where you can go to Dacie Moses [House] to make cookies and leave a batch to share. I love to cook Puerto Rican rice, and I would love to be able to leave some in a common fridge for others to be able to taste—it is so good.”

Student Perspectives

Altering the physical landscape of campus isn’t a process entered lightly. Carleton’s properties include historically significant buildings, and every part of campus is mapped on the memories of generations of alumni. The first phase of the new housing project, which includes the Black and multicultural centers, will be built on the north end of Union Street. Hall House and Hunt Cottage will be removed. During the next phase, Stimson, Williams, and Henry Houses will be uprooted to make way for a new Student Health and Counseling facility at the southeast corner of Union and First Streets.

The Minneapolis-based architecture firm LHB, Inc. designed the project to complement existing Union Street residential structures, with sloped roofs and porches; the Lilac Street housing will have a more modern aesthetic. “Much of the exterior design has to do with optimizing our ability to put solar panels on the roofs. With solar panels, the buildings would achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions as part of being Phius [Passive House Institute U.S.] certified towards our sustainability goals,” says Steven Spehn, director of facilities. It’s a significant campus revision. Naturally, students got engaged.

“RAs, peer leaders, cultural organization representatives, and cultural house residents provided feedback on the centers and the new housing,” says Renee Faulkner, director of the Office of Intercultural Life, of Carleton’s intentional inclusion of student voices. “They’ve weighed in on everything, from the size and shape of meeting rooms, to the location of furniture, to outdoor space and landscaping.”

Students joined representatives from various programs and services including residential life, facilities, student activities, and alumni groups, as well as the chaplain’s office, Career Center, and sustainability office, plus the design team from LHB, to envision a future campus that will feel like home to everyone. Students voiced priorities, including sustainability concerns and preservation of campus history. They also received an education in the realities of construction costs, zoning, and even the mysterious and essential rhythms of building maintenance; for instance, they learned that in the summer, tuck-pointing is done on campus buildings.

The Mirror Effect

On every college tour, high school students ask themselves, “Can I see myself fitting in here?” For someone visiting Carleton from a big city high school, it can be hard to envision life in Northfield. For prospective students of color, there are additional questions. Are BIPOC welcome here? Do I see myself reflected in the population? “I see it as highly advantageous to show Black student athletes and Black alumni that we are making a commitment to them.

These spaces will make a big impact on prospective student tours, signaling that they will find a home here and be able to have an influence during their time here,” says Gerald Young, director of athletics. For this generation of students, raised against a backdrop of Instagram and visual messaging, the impact of an intentional, dedicated space that celebrates Black excellence and culture will be powerful when it comes to recruiting and retention, he says.

“The center can showcase Black music, dance, and food to become a satellite of familiar home experiences. We don’t just fill students up with the ‘Carleton experience,’ we are considering what students are bringing here from their own backgrounds and experiences,” says Young. “I have been here 31 years, and this is something I feel happy to see come to fruition before I retire. We are making a commitment to our students of color, and we are telling them this is their home too.”

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