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The Black Presence at Van Pelt College House

February 20, 2011

Before the founding of W.E.B. Du Bois College House, another dormitory at the University of Pennsylvania had the highest concentration of black students—Van Pelt College House.  Named after former Penn Trustee David Van Pelt, Van Pelt College House was created as an experimental living system in the Fall of 1971.  During its first year, one hundred-sixty students, four faculty members, and eight graduate students inhabited this low-rise dormitory located on the 3900 block of Spruce Street.  Van Pelt’s first residents lived together, shared common meals together, and participated in cultural programs, seminars, and lectures.  Over the years, Van Pelt’s residential community-based system inspired similar programs at Hill, Stouffer, Harnwell, and Du Bois College Houses.

In selecting its residents, Van Pelt College House strived to select a diverse group of students.  Penn Alum and one of the founders of the ONYX Senior Honor Society, Craig Inge (C’75) lived in Van Pelt during his freshman year, and recalls having had black roommates, and several black hall mates.  The current Dean of Van Pelt College House, Dr. Christopher Donovan (C’92), describes Van Pelt as a refuge for marginalized people during one time or another.  According to Dr. Donovan, Van Pelt had the highest concentration of black students when black students felt overt racial discrimination in previous years, and high populations of other minority groups, such as LGBT people, in later periods.

Today, Van Pelt is known as Gregory College House Van Pelt Manor.  Although this college house currently has a lower concentration of black students than in previous years, Van Pelt Manor remains a welcoming college house for racial minorities and other groups of disfranchised people.

Nichole Nelson, C’11

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