ResEd Dismisses Requests to Revive Third World House

The Third World Program House, located in Price House on South campus, has a rich and important history at Oberlin College. It was established in 1973 upon the principles of Third World Internationalism and the Third World Liberation Front — multiracial coalitions of radical organizers working to build solidarity among the nations and peoples of the Third World. As of fall 2022, it has been converted into a traditional first-year residential hall. 

Last May, I contacted the Office of Residential Education to inquire about TWH, which hadn’t been operating as the full program house since the pandemic began. They told me that it did not seem like it held much interest in the community for the upcoming semester, but that they could consider operating it as TWH if they learned about students interested in the space. 

Eleven days later, I sent ResEd a list of 50 names of interested upperclassmen students, enough to fill the house without even including incoming first-years. They were quick to shut me down, responding that they had already filled the building and I could try reorganizing next year, although no one had moved into the building yet and the housing placements had barely been assigned. 

I informed former TWH Residential Assistant Serena Zets, OC ’22, about ResEd’s decision to fill the house as a traditional hall. They expressed concern and sadness at how quickly such a historic hall was being dissolved. 

“It is one thing to say that there is no demonstrated interest, but the deep root of that is that they didn’t do anything to garner interest,” Zets said. 

According to the Oberlin College and Conservatory website, Price served as a “safe space for those who self-identify as a marginalized person including people of color; first generation students; low-income students; lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, and transgender students; and allies of these persons.” 

TWH is a program house that requires care and education. Most Oberlin students don’t know what TWH is, and most people don’t even know what Third World Internationalism is. The College needs to do a better job of educating students about this housing option. TWH is an integral part of Oberlin’s history that must be preserved.

“The mission statement [of TWH] was to serve as a space for those communities but also to serve as a space for organizing and a catalyst for those communities coming together,” Zets said. 

Now, Price is traditional housing, just another symptom of over-enrollment and the College’s general disregard for preserving safe spaces on campus. The doubles in Price have been converted into triples. Other identity-based residence halls, such as Zechiel House, are dealing with ResEd’s seemingly haphazard placement of people who did not request to be in an identity-based safe space, while other students in search of a safe space dorm are left floundering. 

TWH served not only as a safe space but also as a hub for activism and civic engagement. The lounge contains a mural depicting historical figures such as Che Guevara, Malcolm X, and Mohandas Gandhi, and TWH brought in several prominent activists to speak to students, including Cesar Chavez, Dr. Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Kwame Ture. 

“When the [United Auto Workers] organizing was happening, all of those meetings took place in Third World House,” Zets said. “When students were fighting against austerity measures, all of that happened in Third World House.”

TWH was an invaluable space for students of all backgrounds to convene and work together to learn with each other and fight against injustice. Marginalized students at Oberlin face issues that are too often ignored by the administration and larger student body. 

“I think it is really indicative of the direction Oberlin is headed, that it took it from being such a radical and historic house to now just an overstuffed, over-full [first-year] residence,” Zets said.

College fourth-year Stephanie Shugert lived in TWH her first year. She enjoyed her experience in TWH as a multicultural safe space for undocumented students, first-generation students, and scholarship students. 

“It was really interesting to engage with these people from different identities in our lounge with the mural and everything,” Shugert said. “We talked about our histories, our peoples’ histories, but also how being at Oberlin in a space like Third World was upholding how our presence at Oberlin is in and [of] itself a way of social justice, in trying to bridge the gap between the educational disparities of marginalized peoples.” 

Soon, the last students who found solace in TWH — such as Shugert — will graduate, and the history of the house will be lost to new students. 

“There aren’t many safe spaces on the campus, or there aren’t many spaces for people to feel authentically themselves and feel comfortable existing in, let alone to build community and foster dialogue in,” Zets said. “And so the fact that there was a whole house where that was part of its dedicated mission was really important, and that it was so open and welcoming and that it could also house allies who were willing to engage and become involved was important because it was one of the few spaces at Oberlin that purposefully did that. I think the fact that it is not there anymore makes that kind of community building less possible.”