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Unity House

Unity House is home to nine student-run cultural organizations: Asian Students Association, Black Students Alliance, EKTA, International Students Organization, Korean American Students of Smith, Multiethnic Interracial Smith College, Indigenous Smith Students and Allies, Nosotras, and Smith African and Caribbean Students Association. These cultural organizations, together called Unity “as a symbol of their togetherness and cooperation”[1], have held weekly meetings and educational cultural events at Unity House since 1991. However, the building has been part of Smith College since 1967, originally serving as a meeting place for students living off campus.

Smith Acquires New Property: In the spring of 1967, Smith College acquired new properties from the Mary A. Burnham School: Burnham and Southwick Houses at 45 Elm Street, and the former Walker House at 19 Round Hill Road. This transaction occurred because of a merger between the Burnham School and Stoneleigh-Prospect Hill School in Greenfield, two private boarding schools for girls. The transfer of property was scheduled for the summer of 1968.[2] The particular building that would later become Unity House was built in 1880 and contained the laboratory and lecture rooms for the Burnham School.

Once Smith bought the property, it renovated the building specifically for students living off campus. It was intended to be a meeting place for the students – a house in which they could study or do homework. This group of commuter students was originally known as the Let Us Be Acquainted (LUBA) Club, founded in 1920 to foster a sense of community between these students. In 1946, the group changed its name to Hampshire House to recognize than many of their members were from Hampshire County and also to create a community like those in the Smith houses.

When the building was renovated, the students were asked for their input concerning its new features. Once the process was completed, the house included a kitchen, living room, study room, and two bathrooms.[3]

The Cultural Organizations: The commuter students used the former Burnham School property until 1990, when the club moved to the old college bookstore on Green Street. When they moved, the building was renamed Carriage House.

Meanwhile, the cultural organizations were in need of space to house their meetings and events. The groups had been in search for sufficient space since the mid 1970’s. They engaged in dialogue with the administration, trying to find a solution for the allocation of space on campus. During this time, all of the cultural organizations used Lilly Hall as a meeting space. The first group to be housed in Lily Hall was the Black Students Association in 1968. When it was renamed the Mwangi Cultural Center in 1973, the Asian Students Alliance and Nosotras joined the Black Students Association to share Lilly Hall. Over time, more cultural organizations were formed and came to share the space. With the growing number of minority students on campus, Lilly Hall became too crowded and the groups went to the administration to negotiate a solution to the situation. In recognition of their shared goal, the cultural organizations began to call themselves Unity “as an umbrella organization” [4].

After several years, acting-president Dr. France Volkman began negotiations with the heads of cultural organizations in January of 1991. The heads of the cultural organizations at the time were Vivian Chang of the Asian Students Alliance, Kamina Henderson of the Black Students Association, Parvati Krishnamurty of EKTA, Anuradha Aiyengar of the International Students Organization, and Christina Kay Grace Oboma-Layat for the Smith African Students Association. It was agreed that each organization would have an office in Lilly Hall, share the library and a social lounge. The meetings and public events would be held in Carriage House.[5]

Soon after the organizations moved into Carriage House, they renamed it Unity to reflect their solidarity. [6]

Today: Today, the offices for the cultural organizations are also held in Unity House.[7] In 1999, the building was renovated again by Thomas Douglas Architects. The project added two kitchenettes and workstations.[8] Such renovations increased Unity’s capacity to hold “educational and entertainment-focused culturally oriented events”[9], such as Native American storytelling and open mike poetry readings.[10] Although Unity House is primarily intended to serve the cultural organizations on campus, according to Mentha Hynes, assistant dean for multicultural affairs in 2000, there has been effort to foster an inclusive environment for all students at Smith College.[11]


[1] “Unity House: A Safe Haven on Campus,” Academia (Feb. 17 2000), Buildings and Grounds, Unity House, Box 110, SCA

[2] Daily Hampshire Gazette, April 28, 1967

[3] The Campus Guide: Smith College. Vickery, Margaret Birney. Princeton Architectural Press, New York, New York, 2007

[4] This is Unity House, Folder 13, Box 110, SCA

[5] This is Unity House, Folder 14, Box 110, SCA

[6] This is Unity House, Folder 13, Box 110, SCA

[7] “Multicultural Affairs: UNITY: Smith’s Cultural Organizations.” Smith College Website. <http://www.smith.edu/oma/unity.php>

[8] The Campus Guide: Smith College. Vickery, Margaret Birney. Princeton Architectural Press, New York, New York, 2007

[9] “Unity House: A Safe Haven on Campus,” Academia (Feb. 17 2000), Buildings and Grounds, Unity House, Box 110, SCA

[10] (“Unity House: A Safe Haven on Campus,” Academia (Feb. 17 2000), Buildings and Grounds, Unity House, Box 110, SCA

[11] (“Unity House: A Safe Haven on Campus,” Academia (Feb. 17 2000), Buildings and Grounds, Unity House, Box 110, SCA

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