Harambee survives recruitment scare

By
Thursday, March 12, 2009

Despite briefly being in danger of losing its program house status, Harambee House, which offers housing to those interested in African culture, has managed to increase its membership for the next school year to 39 people – 17 more than the 22-person minimum it needs to survive.

Over the past year Harambee’s membership dwindled and the condition of its space in Chapin House deteriorated to the extent that days before the March 3 deadline for program house applications, Harambee did not have enough people planning to live their next year. At one point, the program house definitively had only four returning members, and 11 members in total, said Terry Addison, Harambee House faculty liaison and associate dean of Student Life.

But a large recruitment and refurbishment effort has saved the house from probation or disbandment.

A program house needs 22 members, of which at least five must be returning. If it does not, it is put on probation, which includes loss of some lounge and kitchen privileges.

In order to save Harambee, House Heads Marc Howland ’11 and Lindsay Priam ’11 intensified their

recruitment efforts.

“Once they started counting heads and understood that they would be at a low number, Marc and Lindsay really took it upon themselves to put on an aggressive marketing campaign,” Addison said. “I give them all the credit in terms of getting the word out.”

By the deadline, Harambee had recruited 28 freshmen for next year, Howland said, adding that the first-years were instrumental in “getting the word out” and networking on Facebook.

“It’s great for Harambee because we need young leaders,” he said.

There is currently a waiting list of students wanting to live in the house.

A situation of complacency

According to Nikkisha Smith ’10 and Fedna Jacquet ’10, both former Harambee House heads, one of the reasons the house struggled to survive was the ebb and flow of membership. “I think it really depends on the personality of the freshman class,” Jacquet said.

Smith said she noticed a decrease in first-years at club meetings that use Harambee’s lounge and at Harambee sponsored parties.

“With Harambee, we have so many doubles so you really have to fill it in with new sophomores, and part of the problem this year was that not enough freshmen were interested,” Jacquet said. “If you don’t have freshmen filling up the doubles, juniors are in a position where they might get doubles and that’s not convenient for them,” Jacquet said.

“I think every once in a while this happens,” she said. “You kind of need to reinvigorate the population of color here at Brown, because people get complacent. You always have to light a fire under people because its assumed that everything will always be there.”

Addison agreed that the freshman class this year did not seem as enthusiastic about Harambee as past classes, but also pointed to the large number of seniors leaving and sophomores and juniors going abroad or living off campus as other reasons why membership was low this semester.

Miles Craigwell ’09 and Jonathan Edwards ’09, the house heads before Jacquet and Smith, said many members of the black community at Brown were choosing to become Minority Peer Counselors instead of living at Harambee.

Ana Almeida ’12, a future member of Harambee, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that she considered being an MPC before ultimately choosing to live in Harambee.

Spring cleaning

The physical condition of the house also needed to be improved to make Harambee a more inviting place to live.

“Our goal was to get the house in order and for everything to be set at a high standard,” Howland said.

With the help of the Department of Facilities Management, curtains were installed, the hardwood floors were stripped and waxed, the carpets were professionally cleaned, the fireplace was repaired and the library and kitchen were thoroughly cleaned and reorganized.

“It certainly is refurbished. As a matter of fact, I was impressed,” Addison said.

“The house definitely has a different feel and look to it,” said Howland. “I’m excited about what we’ve done so far and I’m excited about the future.”

Howland said he and Priam plan to keep the house clean and well maintained by creating new leadership positions within the Harambee community. “Having elected positions will make people feel like they have a stake in the house and it gives them a sense of responsibility,” he said.

Recruiting push

But without an intensive recruiting push, refurbishments might not have been enough.

Howland and Priam’s most successful event was the Harambee Open House, which “put some students over the edge and made them want to live there,” Howland said.

A slideshow of memorable moments from life in Harambee was shown in the lounge, which was “set up to resemble a home-like living room,” Priam and Howland said in a statement to The Herald. Addison and past members of Harambee gave speeches talking about the benefits of living within the Harambee community. Howland and Priam were aided by on-campus organizations such as the Brotherhood, a society of African-American men, and ASHE, a group involved in social activism through the creative arts.

“ASHE’s involvement included helping to design and distribute flyers at various events and tableslipping for the Harambee Open House,” wrote Kristin Jordan ’10, a past member of Harambee House and a member of ASHE, in an e-mail to The Herald.

Besides planning the Open House and other events, including the Black Diamond party, Howland and Priam created a Facebook group, sent out e-mails and tableslipped about Harambee. Howland said many freshmen changed their Facebook statuses or sent out Facebook messages to their friends to encourage them to join Harambee.