Emerson, Reni, and Feminism

“Being a woman and being black cannot be separated in my identity,” Fatou Diallo ’19 wrote when asked about Renaissance House and Emerson House, two theme houses on the Wheaton campus. Emerson is described as a feminist house for women, while Renaissance is defined not simply as a feminist house, but also as a space for women of color to support each other in any form and to help educate the campus about women of color issues.

Emerson, however, has accrued the label of being a “white feminist” house. Many students have heard of this label, including Diallo. As a past president of Renaissance House, she feels that the house differs from Emerson because it is a place “where women of color can express who they are…without the strain of…feeling ‘this person doesn’t get what I mean.’” Diallo does not think that women of color feel unwelcome at Emerson House but, rather, that Emerson’s “programs do not always dive deep enough for [women of color] on campus.”

Current Co-President of Renaissance House Yamile Hernandez ’18 agreed with Diallo’s statements, noting that the fact that this issue is even being brought up is proof there is still a long road ahead. However, Hernandez emphasized that “this is not an ‘us vs. them’ issue,” and that the organization Sister Circle helps both houses, along with Distinguished Women of Color Collective (DWOCC) and Feminist Association of Wheaton (FAW), striving to build stronger relationships between them all.

Emerson, too, wants a healthy relationship with Renaissance House. When past president Jordana Joy ’17 reflected on the “white feminist” label, she explained that “[Emerson was] founded in 1994 by radical queer [women of color]…we treat [Emerson] now like a sanctuary.” In this way, she admitted that they were “more concerned with how many people came to our events, rather than having discussions on what the most important topics were.” Especially as a house that has “great relationships” with Residential Life and President Hanno, she thinks that “we need to put our [women of color] first. We need to put any voice that is not ours first.”

Furthermore, current Emerson Co-Presidents Emma Shachat ’18 and Taylor Hale ’18 addressed the issue by acknowledging the merit of the label and, as white women themselves, that it is their “responsibility to confront this label.” They stated that this year, they “aim to call attention to and combat white feminism in ourselves…, in the broader Wheaton community and in larger feminist discourse.”

Undoubtedly, both Emerson House and Renaissance House desire a friendship despite the former being labeled as a white feminist house; both want to be able to support each other as well as their own house. They both recognize that feminism tends to be very white-centered, and that women of color need to be included in this narrative. Through frequent collaborations and constant dialogue, there is no doubt that these two houses can have a supportive, mutual relationship and help combat the ongoing issues within feminism together.