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Ending Differences Vs. Celebrating Diversity: Questions About the New "Perry House"

The Unknown's picture

Recently there have been discussions about the closing of the Perry House and where a new “Perry House” will reside. These conversations have brought up the possibility of changing the name of the building and what will reside in this new multicultural center. Some ideas have been to name it after Robert Washington, the first black professor at Bryn Mawr or for the professor to at least have a strong say in the books that will be purchased and existing books that will be moved to this new location.

Some people have urged that this previous collection of books, pieces of artwork, and other items that resided in Perry House be brought to the new “Perry House.” Questions about who “belongs” in the new building and what are the qualifications to reside in the facility have brought up issues of racial diversity, knowledge, activism, and experience with racial tensions/ questions in Bryn Mawr and the larger world. Though the idea of “Perry House” being a place of diversity has held true, what that means and how that definition or definitions will be implemented is unclear.

I was not there when Perry House was open and I still do not have a completely clear idea of what it was like. From my understanding, it was originally a Black Cultural Center that consisted of a black library. The space housed students from different affinity groups, such as Mujeres.

Questions about where these affinity groups belonged and how they fit into the Bryn Mawr community were raised after the building closed down. This instance also brought into question how and the extent of the history Bryn Mawr has on African Americans and other ethnic minorities.

Even after hearing about why Perry House existed, its purpose, and attending several meetings about its rebirth, I do not know exactly where I stand on some of the issues the physical building represented. In some ways I feel that notions of keeping people of color separated from the rest of the campus is beneficial because it could allow for a celebration of individual colors, histories, backgrounds, experiences, ideas, and cultures, as well as being an opportunity for people who have been otherwise marginalized in daily life to unite and connect with others who share their experiences. This new “Perry House” could be empowering and a place of inspiration for people who have been discriminated against and seen as lesser by society.

I also appreciate the idea of the new building being a place that celebrates diversity. Perry House could and possibly was beneficial for many in navigating a white-dominated campus- both institutionally and in-terms of its residents.

As I see these benefits, I am also skeptical of some of the ideologies and goals of the original Perry House and its future rebirth. I am not completely convinced that separating people who have been continuously not included in political, social, and cultural events beneficial for increasing their power, voice, and role in Bryn Mawr’s campus. I understand I am raising issues of individuality and cultural identity, but I wonder how “comfortable” and integrated a new “Perry house” would really make its future residents feel. 


jccohen's picture

The Unknown,

This sentence seems to me to encapsulate some of the complex questions you're raising here:  "I am not completely convinced that separating people who have been continuously not included in political, social, and cultural events beneficial for increasing their power, voice, and role in Bryn Mawr’s campus."  Part of what I'm thinking about is the phrase "separating people," and particularly in the context of the history of race at Bryn Mawr (and other elite institutions), where African American women were not admitted, and then were admitted but not allowed to room at the college; here is a glaring, painful story of separation by those in power.  How much of this gets carried over when women of color decide that they desire separate space, when the separation is a positive choice?  As you say, there were clearly many benefits to women of color who lived in Perry House and appreciated this space to "unite and connect with others who share their experiences"; are you suggesting that reviving this might prove problematic to its inhabitants as well as to others on campus, and if so, would this be because we're in a different time, or...?