As I dig my heels into what is shaping up to be a challenging third semester for me here at Tufts, I have begun to reflect on some of the people and places that have made my Tufts experience what it is. This academic year, I am living in Capen House. Capen, a 4-story yellow house at the beginning of Professors Row, is one of the oldest and most recognizable buildings on campus. Almost every student will have walked past it at least once by the end of their first year, but not many will have entered.
The third President of what was then Tufts College, Elmer H. Capen, presided over the construction of Capen House in 1875. A plaque inside the house’s front door reads that some of the first house guests in the late 19th Century described it as “admirably adapted for receptions and social assemblies.” However, in 1919 when Brookline, MA resident John Cousens became the sixth President of Tufts College, Capen House transformed from the President’s house into a women’s dormitory. It remained a women’s dormitory until 1977 when it became what it is known as today, the Tufts Africana Center. This month, the Africana Center will celebrate 50 years on our campus.
Of all the advice that I was given before starting college, the line I was fed most often was “your college experience is what you make of it.” I would nod and smile in agreement when I heard this, though I was sure on the inside that it couldn’t be entirely true. I was nervous about finding friends I could laugh with. I was nervous about finding musicians I could sing with. I was nervous about finding professors that could help guide me through my undergraduate journey. And most of all, I was nervous about not being able to find myself. At the end of the day, none of those fears were anything I thought I had control over.
Upon arriving at Tufts, I soon found that the remedies to all my discomfort and fear about college lay within the walls of Capen House. I found music, laughter, wisdom, joy, and sometimes pain. I found excellence, passion, honesty, and occasionally, some tears. I found failure, adversity, and growth. I found a legacy founded on struggle and hardship, characterized by protest and anger, egged on by passion and soul and grit and determination, sprinkled with pride and ambition, then ever so subtly wrapped in a thin layer of hope. In a cultural center born of student protest in 1969, I have found a family. In the house that Elmer H. Capen built, me and almost 50 years’ worth of Black Jumbos have found a home. The President’s house belongs to me.
*The historical information in this piece comes from a note prepared by William D. Hersey A32 that can be found inside of Capen House.