Black House nets money for building fix-ups

Becky Bowman

The Black House soon will receive some much-needed improvements, including new computer equipment and furniture, and repairs to the outside sign and stairwell.

The improvements are long overdue, said Tiffany Berry, For Members Only coordinator. Last year, Berry took former Associated Student Government President Adam Humann, Weinberg ’01, on a walk-through of the house but held out little hope for funding.

“I thought Northwestern would push it to the back burner,” said Berry, a Weinberg junior. “I was shocked when Jordan (Heinz, ASG president,) told me it was approved.”

Both Berry and Carretta Cooke, director of African-American Student Affairs, said all of the improvements are equally important but stressed the need for improvements to the in-house computer facilities.

Although the computer lab has 12 working computers, only about four are capable of completing e-mail, Internet and printing tasks at all or in a reasonable amount of time, Cooke said. Labels that mark those computers in the labs announce: “This computer prints! Hurray!! And has Internet access.”

Most students have given up on the house’s printing facilities, Berry said.

Some of the computers also take five to 10 minutes to boot software programs, Cooke said.

Along with the software snafus, the lab and other areas of the building will receive new ethernet ports to increase their Internet accessibility, said Heinz, a member of the Undergraduate Budget Priorities Committee, the group that requested funding for renovations.

“With a university that’s moving toward not just ethernet ports but also wireless access, student unions don’t even have (enough) ethernet ports. That’s ridiculous,” said Heinz, an Education senior.

In addition to computer-related improvements, the Black House will receive a new doorbell and an outside phone. The current doorbell can be heard only on the first floor of the building, the UBPC reported in its proposal.

Both the sign in front of the house and the outside stairs also will be repaired, bringing them up to par with neighboring buildings on Sheridan Road.

The sign is missing half of one of its three slats, so “African American” is barely legible. The stairs have been painted since the the committee’s report, but are worn and bumpy and almost every step is missing a chunk of wood.

The Black House hosted a Friday night fish-fry and a jazz night at the end of the first week of classes, attracting more than 200 people to the house over the course of one weekend. There are about 500 black students at NU, and about 3,500 people use the Black House each year, Cooke said.

The Black House offers tutoring services, a biweekly men’s support group called NUMen, firesides and activities. It also houses the offices of several student organizations — including FMO, NU’s largest black student group — and professors often teach courses in the building.

“It’s always busy,” Cooke said.

The funds were part of a package of items requested by the UBPC, a group of five students who annually make presentations to NU’s budget committee to ask for funding for undergraduate initiatives.

An exact dollar amount has not yet been placed on the improvements, but Eugene Sunshine, vice president for business and finance, said NU allocated $60,000 for improvements to the Black House and to Shanley Pavilion.

The committee will be able to make an estimate once those affiliated with the Black House have finished prioritizing the improvements, said Kate Duffy, ASG’s public relations chairwoman.

Although the improvements could have come sooner, Berry said, they now will add to a year that she feels will be “one of the best” for the Black House and FMO.

“Everything is working right on time,” she said. “I have a great feeling about this upcoming year.”