Theme house restores GE living community

Augustana’s theme house focused on diversity has been reinstated at the Valhalla house after a year of abandonment.

The residents of the new diversity theme house are senior Luca Amayo, junior Taisya Gowlovech and sophomores Daniel Penedo, Jowi Amayo and Patrick Chang.

Known to most students as the Global Education (GE) House, the original house was reallocated to members of the track team last year by Campus Life in order to maximize the space.

The GE house was a gathering place for international students on campus. Six months after the decision was made, students like Luca Amayo, a government major and Kenya native, began to voice their opinions.

“For the campus community as a whole, it was a loss,” Amayo said. “But, for international students particularly, because that meant that space wouldn’t be there for them.”

Amayo took action last fall and began formulating a plan with Campus Life to reinstate a place for international students.

“While I had been here before, we had done organizing for different initiatives so [students] knew they could count on me to pull together the pieces that we needed,” Amayo said.

Amayo, a resident of the house, attributes the success of reclaiming an international space to the presidents of the African Students’ Union, the Black Student Union, the Muslim Students’ Association and the Augustana International Club who all joined together to draft the letter and a petition urging administration to bring back the GE house.

The students were supported by Campus Life, specifically by Director Corey Kopp who Amayo says was very cognizant and responsive to the oversight.

“We made, at the time, a very financially-driven decision,” Kopp said. “We [could] try to maximize the occupancy in the house better if we were to remove that theme and do something different with it. We found out six months later what it had really meant to international students and the impact it had that was well beyond what we had understood.”

Kopp is working closely with the five house residents to develop its theme and programming. The theme house is still developing, but the African Students’ Union has already used the space this semester for an event.

“We want to do as many [events] as is reasonably possible, but in the next couple of weeks we hope to be able to define hard and fast rules that will create the sort of regularity for everyone that will live in the house,” Amayo said.

Although the house is centered around international exchange and diversity, international students are not the only ones to call it home.

Junior Taisya Gowlovech is the only non-international student currently living at the Valhalla house.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity to live with people from different cultures and see the diversity within everybody,” Gowlovech said. “Our main goal is to provide a space for different events for international students. Without the house, we couldn’t host [events].”

Amayo says Valhalla’s other goals are to establish permanence and make the house well-known enough so that it is automatically filled each year with international students.

As for the future of Valhalla, a new name is being voted on, but the other aspects are up in the air. Whether or not they will keep Valhalla or move back to the original GE house, the programming plan and the occupancy level, which is currently not at capacity, will be decided as the year goes on.

While the theme house continues to develop, so does Amayo’s passion for it.

“It’s never easy to leave home and go somewhere entirely different, and people from South Dakota and the Midwest for the most part are very welcoming,” Amayo said. “But of course, there are challenges everywhere. What this house is trying to do is to help international students really feel like they are part of this campus, that they have a permanent place here.”

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