On January 13, College Housing announced that as of fall 2016, International House (I-House) will exclusively house undergraduates. “Save International House at UChicago,” a petition in response to this announcement, was released on Monday, and calls for the dorm to continue housing professional, graduate, and exchange students.
An FAQ accompanying the University’s announcement states that the move is intended “to accommodate an increasing number of College students on campus in fall 2016.” However, the petition argues that “the purpose of International House will be violated if International House becomes exclusively undergraduate housing.”
Founded in 1932 with an endowment by John D. Rockefeller, UChicago’s I-House is one of 17 International Houses worldwide, all of which house graduate and undergraduate students and aim to provide a cross-cultural learning and living environment.
According to the I-House website, “the mission of International House is to enable students and scholars from around the world to live and learn together in a diverse residential community that builds lifelong qualities of leadership, respect, and friendship.”
Students have argued that shifting I-House to an entirely undergraduate community endangers its distinctive culture and removes an essential support system for international students.
The petition had 449 signatures and over 150 comments of support as of Sunday night. In addition, students have set up a Facebook page called Save the i, posted signs in I-House in protest, and reached out to professors for support.
I-House is also home to iMondays, in which international students prepare food from their native countries and share it with the rest of the dorm.
For fourth-year Lauren Feldman, who lived in I-House’s Thompson House as a second-year, being part of the I-House community was an opportunity to pursue her academic interests.
“I’m studying anthropology and Spanish, so for me, having graduate students from Spain and getting to hang out with them, learn about their culture, and speak Spanish with them was such an influential part of my second year,” Feldman said.
Daniele Macuglia, a Ph.D. student at the Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine who orchestrated the petition, has lived in I-House since 2009. Macuglia, who is from Italy, said that I-House played a vital role in helping him transition to life in Chicago.
“It was personally difficult for me to make such a big change. I could not imagine living alone…. I felt like I was part of a very safe, welcoming, and friendly environment of people…. International students who had a similar perspective as mine could teach me the steps to find my way in this completely different environment, not just in academics, but also the American metropolitan environment of Chicago, which is very different from where I come from,” Macuglia said.
I-House provided Nico Kaufmann, a third-year exchange student from Germany, with similar help in adjusting to Chicago.
“It’s the place where I got to know people, got to meet people, got to make friends, not only with other exchange students but also American students. It’s hard to imagine how my stay in Chicago would have been had I not lived in I-House. I-House is the best place on campus to make friends and feel like a part of the UChicago community,” Kaufmann said.
Though I-House will continue to host events with an international focus, Macuglia believes that without a significant international student population, I-House’s roots in multiculturalism will be compromised.
“Especially now that the University is enlarging its global outreach, it’s incredible that they are attracting and inviting people from all over the world, but are taking away basic resources,” Macuglia said.