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What Makes a Household Name?

Arts & Culture | October 10, 2016

“Living in a place named the ‘Africana Center’ makes me feel even more welcome,” said Janemary Okafor.

As a Black woman at Tufts, Okafor immediately saw the Africana Center as a comfortable space from the name alone. Simple names are ways that individuals can find likeminded peers, especially when coming into college, where many students are searching for a community.

The names given to Tufts’ special interest houses are critical—they denote what sort of community they promote and recruit for. Whether intentional or not, these names are important because they reinforce images and identities of those who feel welcome in those spaces.

Naming and describing places of congregation, like naming Rainbow House as the Rainbow House, influences where and when people spend time. To name is to transform a word into an agent in its own right.

The world, Tufts included, is rife with different names, places, and identities. Africana House is different from Green House, and rightly so. A quick search for “meaning of green” pops up over 378 million hits, and the top five prove “green” is conceptually equivalent to nature, fecundity, and growth. Fittingly, Tufts’ Green House as explained by Tufts ResLife is “intended as a focal point for the environmentally-minded community on the Tufts Campus,” whereas the Africana House acts as a gravitational center for “students of African descent.” The distinct names of these houses intentionally produce different atmospheres meant to bring together students with similar interests and backgrounds.

The names of special interest houses impact who moves between those houses and for what reasons. Some describe how the experience of living in a special interest house, though gratifying to live with similar-minded people, can often feel insular. Aidan Huntington, who lives in the co-op style Crafts House, commented that, “living in a house where we cook together and have our own space can sometimes make it harder to see people outside of this community.” When a place is associated with a lifestyle, people who occupy it tacitly acknowledge the ways in which it reinforces their own identities.

But Huntington affirms that he appreciated the sense of similarity and community inherent to his living situation. Huntington’s choice to live in Crafts House reflects his desire to associate with a specific community: “The description of [Crafts House] being a place for artists, activists, and musicians was very appealing for me,” continues Huntington. “It gives you a culture that many other places at Tufts don’t offer.”

Michelle Asamoah, who lives in the Africana House, or more commonly called Capen, still echoes Huntington’s sentiment, though her house of residence is different. “[Living in Capen] really is part of the core of my identity at Tufts…it really does create a community spirit and makes me feel more comfortable at Tufts,” she said.

People’s upbringings can also encourage their decision to live in specific houses. Asamoah explained that being around individuals also immersed in her culture is particularly meaningful. “As an African student at Tufts, I did want an opportunity to be around more people from the African Diaspora in order for me to be closer to my community and feel closer to my home,” she said.

Reciprocally, a person’s presence, with their specific set of personality traits, desires, and talents, contributes to a house’s meaning as well. “There’s so much culture in the Africana Center… I can walk downstairs and chill in the lounge with my bonnet on and that’s okay. I can take out my braids in front of my friends there and that’s okay,” Okafor says, “I can be myself and that’s why I chose to live there.”

One sentiment echoed by residents of different houses is that they recognize that the value of their communities will remain even after they move out. People expect the patterns of the houses they choose to imprint on habits and friendships for years to come. MP Monks, a Green House resident, explained that her experiences in the Green house will surely affect her living arrangements down the line. “I hope that after living here for a year I will take away things that will change how I live in communities in the future,” she said. Asamoah affirmed that there is a meaningful social component: “It’s actually how I made most of my friends and kept the relationships going, so I’m really grateful for it.”