On the surface, the George Washington Williams House is a student organization that serves as a center for Africana history and cultural promotion both nationally and in the District. But it is more than an umbrella organization for multicultural groups on campus, it’s a place where students come together as brothers and sisters.
Students and GW administrators gathered at organization’s headquarters across the street from the Smith Center last Friday for the annual Black Leaders Appreciation Dinner. The students who were familiar with the organization, which houses some of its members in an LLC, said it is a tight-knit community.
“We’re the only family on campus,” said junior Kelcey Abney, historian and secretary for the organization. “If it’s mine, it’s yours. We help each other out, it’s a place of communication and our door is always open.”
Abney moved into the house in September after feeling disconnected during his sophomore year living in the Potomac House. Abney lives with seven other students in the house’s Living and Learning Community.
“I was either in my room, church or here,” he said. “I never had a sister and they were all girls. They became my family and I decided to apply and move in.”
The house is named after George Washington Williams, known as nation’s first historian of African-American studies. Williams grew up in slavery, fought in the Civil War, and later became a historian, politician and minister.
Residents of the house are placed based on an application process, in which the community leaders choose students to continue Williams’ legacy.
Its heritage, however, is not the only thing that makes the house special. Walking in the door, people are greeted with hugs rather than handshakes and there is a feeling of togetherness throughout the room.
“There is a great sense of warmth and hospitality here,” said Dean of Students Linda Donnels.
Over a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, students talked about what they would do after college. Some gave tips on applying to graduate school and others discussed feeling that they may not have enough experience in their field to start working.
“We’ll be up at 4 a.m. and someone can walk in and be like, ‘Oh my God, I have a test, I don’t know what to do,’ and we can help,” said junior Shaterra Lee, treasurer of the house. “We all have different majors and can help with the material, but even more than that, we can provide that comic relief. If you have a problem, we really care about it and want to help. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Its residents described the house as a place void of judgment where those who come through the unlocked door can feel a sense of home.
“This is a place where students can come in and be themselves,” said Bernard Demczuk, the house adviser and assistant vice president for D.C. affairs. “They can be black when they come through this door, when then may feel like they may be judged elsewhere.”
“Being black, it’s inevitable to feel some disconnect from the greater GW community just because of the sheer numbers,” Lee said. “So it’s important to feel a part of something and have a home like this.”
Junior Amanda Roach moved into the house when her two roommates went to Paris.
“It’s a place where you have people you can study with and party with,” she said.
The house is currently under the LLC system, in which its members reapply for the house every year, though the residents are working on making it a permanent facility on campus.
“Just by living here, you get black history,” Demczuk said. “And it’s from your friends, from this family that you are a part of when you step through the door.”