Make yourself at home

Living room Students gather in one of the Glover Alston Center’s front rooms. The fireplace mantel was crafted from wood rescued from a campus catalpa tree that fell during a windstorm.

With an earthy color palette inspired by the spices of the world, a gas fireplace warming the front room, numerous cozy rooms and a spacious kitchen, the Glover Alston Center — within weeks of its January 2010 opening — has become a favorite spot for students, clubs, faculty and others to meet, study, cook and connect.

“It has a warmth to it, as if people actually live in it,” said Danny Kaplan ’10, a race and ethnic studies major and member of the planning committee for the Glover Alston Center, located in a renovated historic home at the edge of campus. “I saw the house many times during its construction, but I did not expect the finished product to look so homey.”

South Asian Student Association Serenita Kumar ’10, far right, president of the South Asian Student Association, planned an evening of movies and cooking for her club on a Saturday night. As the cooking got under way, members of other clubs and their friends joined in the fun. Left to right: Nick Michal ’12, Surabhi Veenapani ’12, Stefanie Brown ’12 and Kumar.
Curry Marcial Diaz Mejia ’13 and Rimmy Doowa ’12 check on the chicken curry.
Kitchen Left to right: Diaz Mejia, Alegria Olmedo ’12, Nick Michal ’12 and Doowa.

Named for donors Kari Glover ’72 and her husband, Thaddas Alston, the center at 26 Boyer Ave. opened in mid-January.

Nearly seven years in the planning, the project was inspired by a need initially identified by multicultural club members. “They were struggling to find different places to meet and have personal, private conversations,” said Mukulu Mweu, associate dean of students for intercultural programs and services. “There were very few places we were able to identify on campus where they were able to have those kinds of conversations.”

Numerous student clubs — from spiritual and religious groups to working class/first-generation students and Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment — identified the same concern, Mweu said.

“Reid Campus Center has the Coffeehouse. It’s hard to have a private conversation there with all the traffic,” she said. “Upstairs the rooms are basically classrooms and not very cozy.” Clubs often met at one of the Interest Houses, but “students felt like they were intruding, taking over somebody’s personal space,” Mweu said. The same was true of lounges and kitchens in the residence halls, said Ben Wu ’07, a former resident director and current program director of the Glover Alston Center.

“The Glover Alston Center “bridges cultures in a very relaxed atmosphere without forcing conversations.”
– Mukulu Mweu, associate dean of students for intercultural programs and services

Today, the students and staff who haveinvested thousands of hours planning for the center realize the potential for the house “is even bigger than what we had imagined back then,” Mweu said.

“This house is open to encourage ongoing dialogue on a multitude of issues, and all faculty, staff and students are welcome to use the house and share their ideas, share their cultures and learn from one another,” Mweu said.

To facilitate that interaction, planners incorporated in the design a variety of spaces: Two main rooms off the entrance, one with a large TV; a large kitchen and dining room; and small and medium-sized rooms upstairs for spiritual reflection, activities, meetings or individual study.

In the planning stages, club members also identified the need for a place to cook together. For Sarah Deming ’10, an economics major and past president of the Black Student Union (BSU), the kitchen is her favorite part of the house. In January, at the first BSU meeting of 2010, Nick Chow ’13 and Alan Okello ’13 cooked cuisine from Chow’s native Trinidad and Tobago.

“We all hung out in the kitchen smelling the food and catching up after the long break, and it was something that never could have happened if we didn’t have the Glover Alston Center,” Deming said.

Glover Alston Center The historic home at 26 Boyer Ave. is believed to have been built in 1903. It was purchased by Whitman College in 1992. Most recently it housed senior art studios, which were moved to the new Fouts Center for Visual Arts in 2008.

The center “bridges cultures in a very relaxed atmosphere without forcing conversations,” Mweu said. “If you’re here to study and meet a friend, and you go to the kitchen to get a cup of water and you find another group there, maybe cooking together, a conversation is likely to come out of that interaction. ‘Tell me, what is this that you’re making?’ or ‘What do these spices represent?’ They will be sharing the culture in a very organic way.”

“A welcoming gathering space is important to any student organization,” said Kaplan, a leader in Hillel-Shalom.

Organizers also envision the house as having a distinctly educational component with documentary film screenings, small-group discussions on student research or topics of current concern, and opportunities for students to access expert speakers at social events before or after lectures.

“We hope that the general campus community will feel comfortable coming to this space,” Mweu said.

As Mweu and Wu sat on a paprika-colored couch across from the fireplace, they reflected on the journey that culminated in this moment and this special place. They also pondered the work yet to do: Furniture for the patio and front porch; additional furnishings, plants and homey accents; and funds to support programming are on the wish list.

Still, the house right now is “pretty terrific. We hope this will be a house well-used,” Mweu said.