With Black House set to reopen fall 2021, students reflect on the community missed during renovations


Graphic by Meher Yeda

The Black House on Sheridan Road. Black student organizations like For Members Only and Soul4Real, which typically meet at the Black House, have been displaced since the building closed for renovations in June 2019.

Maia Pandey, Assistant Campus Editor

Since the Black House first closed for renovations in June 2019, two cohorts of Black students have arrived on campus without ever stepping foot in the space. Most of the underclassmen who used to frequent the building, located on 1914 Sheridan Road, have graduated or will within the next year.

After nearly two years of construction as well as COVID-19 delays, administrators announced on March 31 that the renovations would finish by the middle of Spring Quarter. 

The email said Northwestern hoped to host small, in-person events in early June, giving attendance priority to Black members of the class of 2021. But University spokesperson Rochelle Ritchie told The Daily that in-person events held before commencement will be limited to tours of the space. A grand reopening will likely occur during Reunion Weekend 2021, which is scheduled for Oct. 14 to 17, Ritchie told The Daily. 

“We intend to align reopening of the Black House with the University’s plans for Fall Quarter,” Ritchie added. “COVID and other safety precautions will be (an) integral part of the reopening plan.”

The Black House’s closure in 2019 meant Black student organizations like For Members Only and Soul4Real had to relocate their meetings to a temporary location on 1856 Orrington Ave. After the pandemic hit, all activities transitioned to Zoom.

Sophia Simon, FMO publicity and media chair and Soul4Real president, said the original Black House used to be a “regular stop” for her. Outside of student group meetings, the Communication junior said she visited the house between classes. It’s also where she met some of her closest friends at NU, she added. 

“Coming to Northwestern, I was specifically looking for Black community,” Simon said. “I found out there was a space centered around Black students, I was like, ‘Okay, this is where I’m going to be, this is where I’m going to meet people.’”

Simon said she knows many students who relied on the house for the community are missing this resource now. She said the earlier the house could reopen, the better.

However, Simon added, she wouldn’t mind a late-fall reopening if that meant students could safely gather in large groups and the University could organize a meaningful celebration.

“It’s such a big deal having the Black House renovated, especially since it’s been inactive for so many years,” Simon said. “I would like to see some sort of a decent commemoration.”

Black House renovations were originally set to conclude in Fall Quarter 2020. As a prospective student before the pandemic, Medill freshman Elisabeth Betts said she was specifically looking forward to using the space during her first year on campus. 

Betts and other Black freshmen have tried to coordinate meet-ups at Norris University Center and other open buildings on campus, but she said it’s been difficult not having a space designated as theirs.

“We feel left out at times because there’s a lot of things that upperclassmen say used to happen in the Black House that we didn’t get to experience this year,” she said.

Organizations like FMO have helped fill this gap, Betts added, especially in terms of meeting other Black students on campus. Betts is a member of the FMO freshmen executive board, which was reinstated this winter to help plan events specifically for Black freshmen. 

While these events have facilitated a community of Black freshmen, Betts said she has met very few Black upperclassmen during her first two quarters at NU.

“I still feel disconnected from the larger Black community (at NU),” she said, “and I feel like the Black House might have helped with that.”

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Twitter: @maiapandey

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