Harambee House, Brown’s program housing for black students, has remained a part of the Chapin House residence hall for over 25 years. Since Harambee’s inception in 1993, hundreds of residents have entered and exited the space and found a sense of belonging within its four walls. However, as of this year, it has been revealed that Harambee House is officially moving to 315 Thayer Street, making this transition nothing short of monumental.
Harambee is the black program house on campus; a residential and communal meeting space for black students, by black students. Harambee is neither a gorilla, nor a person, but rather a Swahili word meaning togetherness or synergy. From the 1870s, the time black people were first admitted to Brown, to 1993, there was not a physical space for black students to unite on campus. There was not a place where black students could celebrate black life. There was not a place where black students could laugh, cry, or grow together. When black students were antagonized and told to go back from whence they came or marginalized in classrooms and residence halls, there was no central hub to find solace in. There needed to be a change. Thus, the Organization of United African Peoples rallied to create Africa House in 1993. Initially met with backlash that it would disrupt University pluralism and facilitate separatism, the official name, Africa House, was later changed. Harambee was born.
While Harambee became a pillar for the black community at Brown and beyond, the program house still faced many challenges throughout the years. Harambee was even threatened to be removed from the official program house list on campus due to fluctuating membership. In the 2018-2019 school year, Harambee almost lost its program house status due to a lack of enrollment and interest in the community. This caused black residents and faculty to work tirelessly to recruit and to fundraise; to eliminate the possibility of losing the program house black alumni and faculty worked so hard to obtain. This work paid off. Last year, Harambee House managed to receive a record-breaking number of applicants, retaining its program house status.
Harambee is easily regarded as the heart of the black community at Brown. Here, black students can culturally express themselves, process stress and grievances together, and become leaders in their communities. For some, living in Harambee has been “the best decision I’ve made for my mental health. Since I’ve been here, I have fostered so many relationships that I foresee existing for a long time,” says Lyric Johnson ‘24, Harambee House Co. President. Others say that Harambee is “a safe place. A place where I can connect with people who understand me, my identities, and my culture” says Nick Gibson ‘24. The house is undeniably an essential space to the black students of Brown’s campus.
With this new move to 315 Thayer Street, Harambee can now host newer and more frequent events which were limited due to the space in Chapin. The majority of residents currently living in Harambee revealed that they would not opt to live in the house another term if it remained in Chapin. Additionally, according to a poll conducted on the Harambee House Instagram, there are many reasons why people would have decided to move out of Harambee: the lack of single rooms, the communal and unkempt bathrooms, the lack of facilities, and the lack of accessibility which are all structural/foundational issues, further prompting the need to relocate the program house. This move promises a larger lounge space, in which renovations will take place over the summer. There are more singles. And the facilities are overall more up-to-date than Chapin (built in 1950 in contrast to 315 Thayer Street built in 1902 and renovated in 2012). Along with this, there are promises of new furniture, decor, and technology.
Now, let’s be clear: this move will not solve all of the problems with the space on campus. Nor will it absolve all other complications. There are still many concerns accompanying the transition, such as the new location on Thayer St. being far from the central part of campus, the small quantity of beds (59), and regards to safety. 315 Thayer Street is a long walk from the central part of campus and some students, such as Dena Salliey ‘24 believe that Harambee would feel “removed from campus…” and that they “… might stop seeing people who look like me.” To address this, Harambee faculty and leaders are ensuring that there will be efforts made in order to host frequent events closer to central campus in order to prevent exclusion. There are also propositions of vouchers for restaurants on Thayer Street. With respect to the minimal number of beds available, it’s a fact that Harambee has never exceeded 49 residents, so the number of beds available is on par with the number of residents that tend to live in the space. The university, however, ensures that 315 Thayer Street does not have to be a permanent residence for Harambee and members can decide to move Harambee again if the number of residents exceeds the amount of space available.
Essentially, the fight for the most optimal and convenient space for all black people is an ongoing process. Johnson plans on focusing, “efforts into honoring the memory of Harambee’s start in Chapin and supporting the community in the best way possible.” Harambee leaders hear the black students of the community and are working to make sure all needs are met.