A Comprehensive History of the Fight for Perry House

1962 The property is purchased.

Bryn Mawr College purchases a house, together with Arnecliffe and seven acres of land, from Henry and Susan Perry. From 1963 until 1972, the building is used as the Spanish language residence and known as “Spanish House.”


1970 Demands are made.

Feeling that the needs of Black students were not being met, a coalition of African-American and White students on campus, calling themselves the Sisterhood, hold a sit in on campus. They issue a list of ten demands. In addition to voicing concerns pertaining to the curriculum and faculty appointments, they call for the following:

“We demand an African American house. This house will be a cultural center, housing the Black Library, and a meeting place for business and social functions. We suggest the present Spanish house for this purpose.”


1998 A call to action.

On April 21, a student, Kwanza Price publishes a piece in the college news titled “Perry House: Endangered Residence” in which she seeks to elevate attention to the house’s structural demise and calls for a commitment from the College to create a more thriving Black cultural center in the space.


2005 The Perry House Library is established.

Nia Turner works to have art and a circulating library that is staffed part-time by student workers.


2008 Mujeres joins the family.

In early Spring, Mujeres executive board members approach Sisterhood and BACaSO executive board members to talk about living in the house as well. Sisterhood, BMC’s African American cultural affinity group, and BACaSO, the college’s Afro-Caribbean cultural affinity group, were having trouble filling all seven rooms in the house, and Mujeres thought it would be a good idea for the three affinity groups to share the space. The three groups hosted a meeting (closed to group members) to discuss the issue, and it was very controversial.  Sisterhood and BACaSO eventually voted to include Mujeres in Perry House, and that spring’s application process included Mujeres. Perry’s first Mujeres executive board residents (for the 2008-2009 academic year) were three of its most vocal proponents: Joanna Pinto-Coelho ’09, Nikki Lopez ’10, and Vivian Cruz ’10. Having the three groups live together facilitated their collaboration on campus issues for the next several years.


2012 The fight for Perry begins.

SPRING

In the spring, the College gives word that Perry House will be “taken offline” in the next academic year. Meetings take place to come up with a plan for housing. The Perry House Coalition forms.

SUMMER

The following summer, June 12, Dean Michele Rasmussen writes to students with updates on the Perry House situation. She notes that Pem 4th has been designated as the living space for those seeking a Perry-like experience in the interim and that Vanessa Christman has met with members of the library staff to create a plan for the safekeeping of the Black Cultural Center books and artwork. (This plan becomes housing the books at the Pensby Center.) She notes that President McAuliffe has charged CAO Jerry Berenson with coming up with 4-5 models for residential life at the College. Plans for inviting alumnae and student input are also proposed.

FALL

Marissa Jackson ’14 presents a plenary resolution titled “Perry House Transparency and Institutional Commitment.” The resolution cites the facility’s current state of closure, a “vague timeline concerning the renovation and reopening of Perry House,” and limited student participation in the discussions concerning its future. The resolution calls for, among other things:

  • The Board of Trustees, President McAuliffe, Residential Life, and Facilities Services make the renovations to Perry House a priority in Bryn Mawr’s institutional planning
  • Students will be invited to meetings concerning renovations and/or the closing of dorms and other student spaces.
  • Representatives from Sisterhood, Mujeres, and BACaSO will hold regular discussions with the Dean’s Office, Residential Life, and the President’s Office until a definite plan for Perry House has been set in motion.

On October 25, Dean Michele Rasmussen and Vanessa Christman meet with interested students in an open meeting.

On November 10, Esteniolla Maitre ’15 writes to Dean Rasmussen on behalf of students in the Women in Walled Communities 360 course who are actively working on the Perry House issue, especially the preservation of Perry House’s importance on campus and in BMC’s history. Esteniolla expresses this group’s interest in interviewing Perry House alumnae and documenting Perry House’s history.

On November 16, After many organizing meetings, Jomaira Salas ‘13 sends a letter to President Jane McAuliffe, signed “The Perry House Coalition and Allies.” The letter states:

It is our sincere desire to work in active concert with the College to come to a decision about the future of Perry House – a decision that should take into consideration all of the complexities of valuing this space. What we experienced at the Big Cheese Forum felt like a betrayal of that commitment, and more in line with a decision that has already been made. If that is the case, we ask that the College inform us honestly, directly, and immediately. If however, the disposition of Perry House is still truly up for discussion, and in order to move forward in good faith, we request:

  • A commitment to include student and student ally voices in all conversations about Perry House, e.g. campus wide, President’s Advisory Group, the Board of Trustees meetings (February and April), alumnae groups, etc.
  • A committee of faculty, staff and students (including representatives from Sisterhood, Mujeres, and BACaSO), selected by the current group of involved students (The Perry House Committee) is formed immediately. We request that this committee be majority students.
  • The Perry House Committee is charged with developing a process and policies for considering all options for the disposition of Perry House, and that the Committee’s findings are the final determination on the future of Perry House. We make this request in part to reverse a tradition of students of color having to shoulder the greater burden of conducting these types of ongoing conversations disproportion to the long term time commitment counter to their academic wellbeing, and to the amount of political capital they are able bring to such issues. We ask that student representatives from this committee present these findings at the Board of Trustees meetings in February and April.
  • Representatives from the Perry House Committee meet with the Board of Trustee’s sub-committee on Campus Diversity and Finance and other appropriate Board Committees. These include but are not limited to the December 13th, February and April 2013 Board Meetings. We also request meetings with individual board members Fall semester 2012 and Spring semester 2013.
  • The Perry House Committee reviews all communications to the College community, alumnae groups, and to the general public concerning this matter.
  • A fund through the college’s Development Office in which alumnae and current seniors can donate specifically to Perry House.
  • A letter from President McAuliffe stating how the historical and cultural significance of Perry House, makes its renovation a necessary investment.

The letter suggests that “the treatment of the building is analogous to the institution’s lack of commitment to the well-being of Black, Latina and women of African and Caribbean descent at Bryn Mawr.” It further asserts:

“We understand that our fight for Perry House is comparable to the kind of leadership that Bryn Mawr instills in its students. This is the type of women’s empowerment that the college supports and promotes around the world.”

WINTER

On November 15, Wendy Greenfield sends a detailed letter to alumnae/i, which she begins:

I am writing to inform you about a development with Perry House, Bryn Mawr College’s Black Cultural Center which also serves as a small residential building on campus for student members of the cultural affinity groups Sisterhood (African-American), BACaSO (Bryn Mawr College African and Caribbean Student Organization) and Mujeres (Latina). In recognition of the historic significance of Perry House to the Bryn Mawr community, I am writing today to update you on the status of the building, its residents and the Black Cultural Center.

Wendy highlights the following topics in her email:

  • Historic and Symbolic Importance of Perry House
  • Student Residents of Perry House
  • Black Cultural Center
  • Celebrating the Black Student Experience at Bryn Mawr
  • Moving Forward

On December 6, President Jane McAuliffe announces the formation of the Student-Housing Options Committee, “to examine student housing options, particularly Perry House and the Black Cultural Center.”

On December 19, several students meet with Michele Rasmussen and Vanessa Christman to brainstorm preserving the history of Perry House. The idea for summer internships comes up. Special Collections, the Greenfield Digital Archive and the Alumnae Association are named as resources. The idea is to create an internship that will comprise research but also stories and visual projects.


2013 A ‘New Perry’ is in the works.

In May, the Housing Options Committee issues a report calling for Bryn Mawr’s Board of Trustees “to consider a ‘New Perry’ that would maintain a dedicated gathering and dining space for the groups that had space in the home and which may also help solve some of the College’s other housing issues.”

The Pensby Internship is launched and supports two undergraduates—Lauren Footman ’14 and Alexis De La Rosa ’15—in conducting research about the experiences of Black and Latin@ students, staff and alumnae/i. Their exhibit, A Point of Difference: Diversity at Bryn Mawr College, features a section devoted to Perry House.

On July 22, Interim President Cassidy announces the Trustees’ approval of a plan for a Haffner Student Housing Project. “The plan—which was among those favored by the Student Housing Options Committee made up of students, staff, and faculty—provides for additional residential rooms on campus and a dedicated space that would encompass and expand the uses of the historic Perry House.”


 

2014 The Housing Options Committee continues to meet.

On October 28, the Relaunching Perry House committee meet for the first time or the school year. Subcommittees form to address Residential Life/DLT; Art/Furnishings/Housekeeping and Maintenance; Communications and Launch Events; Library; and Post-Launch Programming.


 

2015 The committee begins to finalize its work.

WINTER

On January 27, A Project Perry Preview event is held in the Campus Center Main Lounge

On February 12, members of the Relaunching Perry House committee have a conference call with members of the Black Alumnae Leadership Circle to share updates from the Project Perry Preview event and answer their questions.

On February 27, College Communications publishes a story titled “Plans for New Perry House Shaping Up, Committee to Take Last Look at Old Perry,” in which students Danielle Cadet and Khadijah Seay, both members of the committee, are quoted. A groundplan of the new facility is included.

On March 3, undergraduates and a few alumnae and staff members take a last look at the interior of Perry House before asbestos remediation commences.

SPRING

The communications sub-committee works to plan an event that would provide closure to the community. On April 1, a “Save the Date” email is sent by the committee advisor, Vanessa Christman.

SUMMER

On May 2, current and former members of the bryn mawr community comes out to say their final goodbyes to Perry House at the “A Tribute to Perry House Event”.

3 thoughts on “A Comprehensive History of the Fight for Perry House”

  1. I just read campus buzz in the Alumnae Bulletin and learned about this blog for the first time. Imagine my surprise when I typed in the URL and saw on the site a photograph of myself and two fellow classmates under Memory Lane. In the photograph, from left to right, Maxine Sharpe ’75, myself, the late June Oldham ’75 and one person whose identity I am not absolutely certain about. Maxine and I lived in Perry House during the 1972-1973 academic year, if I remember correctly. Interestingly, Maxine, June and I all became lawyers.

    1. That picture is used and referenced so often, but no one ever identified who the students in the picture were (or even the year). I’ll definitely update the caption so we can get the word out! Thanks for this update.

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