Umoja House, a new living-learning community (LLC) for students of diverse backgrounds, opened in the Fall 2021 semester. Named after unity, the first principle of Kwanzaa, Umoja House will create an intellectually engaging, encouraging environment where students can celebrate their identities while also nurturing their leadership skills. Located in Erie Hall, Umoja House is open to students of all years and majors. About 50 percent of the first cohort are from diverse backgrounds.
“The space is meant as a recharging station for students of color, however all students are welcome,” says Sasha Eloi-Evans, director of multicultural programs and services. “The hope is that students will live together, form a community, and, because of those connections, be more engaged and invested in the institution. They then feel more confident about participating in other aspects of campus life and leadership roles—they aren’t just on campus, they’re in campus.”
The former founding advisor for the University of Rochester’s Douglass Leadership House, Eloi-Evans explains that many students of color feel they are “on the margins” at predominantly white institutions. Having a dedicated LLC space for these students—something common at larger institutions across the nation—not only helps alleviate that sense of isolation by connecting them to others who have similar interests and experiences but reinforces the fact that they are “welcome and seen” by the College.
“At the center of thriving at an institution is a sense of belonging,” she says. “A big part of that is how valued students feel, how visible they are, and what’s important to them, so Umoja will bring all of that. It shows students of color that Geneseo has no problem celebrating and uplifting this community and saying that who they are and what they bring to campus are important.”
Meg Reitz, associate director of residence life for educational initiatives, agrees that feeling welcome and supported is critical to academic success.
“When you constantly feel like you’re trying to protect yourself, you can’t learn to your fullest capabilities,” she says. “Part of the goal in supporting BIPOC students is giving them a place where they don’t feel like they have to put on a different face. When you’re around people like you, your walls can come down, which means you’re more open to trying new things and even failing—essentially, you’re more open to learning.”
Like Geneseo’s 13 other LLCs, Umoja House will have its curriculum and activities driven by students, from choosing literature for group discussion to inviting guest speakers to hosting educational events with other groups on and off campus.
“Sitting in a classroom and learning material, that’s not where your education is supposed to end,” Reitz says. “We want our LLCs to be places of action where students take what they’ve learned and do something with it.”