The lounge is a common gathering area for members of Unity House. It’s where they study, socialize and advertise events. It’s also where they placed a poster detailing one of their goals for the year. It reads “House of the Year” and is surrounded by members’ descriptions of the house: “Home away from home,” “Leadership starts with us!” and “The house promotes academics while stressing the importance of family values.”
We want to win House of the Year,” said Unity House President Jordan Rawls, a second year Information Technology major.
When Unity House celebrated their 25th anniversary last year, they won an award as the most improved Special Interest House. Now in their 26th year, Unity House is starting over.
Its eBoard members, all second year students, have taken on the task of reviving interest in the house, reinforcing their focus as a house founded around the concept of family and togetherness. Rawls credits these newer members with saving the special interest house. He says that without the younger generation, Unity House “would have had no eBoard and hardly any floor members.”
House historian Jalexis Smith, a second year Fine Art Photography major, agrees that there is a lot more support from first years and off-floor members. According to Rawls, applications for both on and off-floor members have come in almost every day this quarter.
But this interest wasn’t always there. Rawls said the biggest struggle during his presidency has been eliminating negative word-of-mouth. “We have had to eliminate stereotypes that we are just for black people and that we are just a social floor,” he said.
Rawls said that all the negative publicity was hurting recruitment. That is also why this year Rawls said that Unity House has had to reintroduce themselves to other organizations, such as the Multicultural Center for Academic Success. “We want to [collaborate] more with other special interest houses.” Rawls noted.
Rawls commented on how important it is for members of Unity House to want to create a helpful community. “We were founded on the principles of unity and togetherness,” he explained.
Floor member R’ryona Thomas, a first year Computer Engineering Technology major, said she talked on Facebook with most of the eBoard members prior to the beginning of the school year. It was during those conversations that she noticed Unity House’s family-oriented community.
Rawls said that Facebook is helpful to eBoard members when searching for students who apply to be a part of the house, in order to get to know future members.
When it comes to members, Rawls noted that Unity House is looking for people who want to be future campus leaders and also make a better environment for themselves and others.
Thomas said that there is always energy on the floor. Many of her friends who would come to hang out on the floor have since become off-floor members. “We are all a family,” she said.
“We try to incorporate family into everything we do,” Smith said. “For example, [we are] always traveling to social gatherings together, having movie nights on floor during the weekends, or just simply having dinner with each other.”
Nurturing this sense of community is one of Unity House’s missions, and they hold many events throughout the year to this end. They established a mentor/mentee program and also recently hosted a student/faculty mixer with Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and the AALANA Collegiate Association, which saw about 80 attendees.
On November 6, Unity House will be hosting Soul Food Sunday in the Brick City Café from 6-8 p.m. Open to everyone, this free event will feature the cooking of Unity House members’ family. “I wish it was once a quarter,” Smith commented, “because it tastes so good.”
Unity House’s biggest annual event is a talent showcase called Tribute, which always takes place in February. It includes performances by fraternities, dance teams, floor members and others. Thomas and two other members from the house are already planning to perform in this year’s show. During last year’s Tribute, entitled “Back to Basics,” all the house’s eBoard members performed in skits where they traveled back in time to relive the significant history of their group.
“We want to pass on our history and make sure Unity House keeps going,” Rawls said. “We put it in motion and want to be involved.”
Smith said that Unity House not only encourages members to be active on campus but to also make sure they have a presence in the Rochester community. Recently Unity House teamed up with Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity to serve dinner at the Open Door Mission in Rochester. According to Smith, the mission only needed five volunteers but got over 20 showed up to help. “I was really proud of Unity House and all the members that showed up to volunteer,” she said.
Rawls said that another house goal is to keep grades up, something they have struggled with in the past. Smith said that Unity House now offers tutoring at study jams three times a week. Thomas said that Unity House has been very supportive with her academics. “I’m taking circuit theory now and three other people already have taken it and they [gave] me a crash course,” she explained, “If you need support, this is the place to be.”
Smith sat down to eat lunch in the lounge and recalled how she became part of Unity House. “Last year I was one of only three freshmen,” she said. “I didn’t get to tour the school before I came so I really joined on a whim.”
“I was surprised mostly by the truth behind the motto: One House, One Love, One Family,” Smith said, “They’re my brothers and sisters.”