There’s an immediate sense of purpose on the fourth floor of Boyd Hall, where UNLV has established its first black and African American diaspora living-learning floor. Wakanda Forever door tags decorate the hallway and, defying their titles, games of Cards Against Humanity and Uno bring the community together.
One floor standard — the expectations that residents create together and agree to live by — is to speak to each other in passing along the hallway. It encourages the students to get to know each other. Resident assistant D’Andre Cooper said, “It’s refreshing because we tend to spend too much time on our phones and forget the simple hellos.”
Howell Town is the newest themed community on campus. The residence halls also have floors for all-women, healthy living, and LGBTQ+ students, as well as floors dedicated to members of the Honors College and Harrah College of Hospitality. In its first semester, Howell Town attracted 30 residents, mostly upper class and transfer students.
V Dedeaux chose Howell Town because “here I can have someone to relate to and who can understand me. Howell Town feels completely different from other floors and other halls.”
Resident Faith Lawson added, “The floor is very communicative. We see that we go through the same struggles, and even if I don’t know someone very well on my floor yet, I still feel like I know them.”
Cooper said the experience at Howell Town has drawn the students closer together, and that, “people actually want to interact and engage. Having like-minded individuals on one floor together where they can thrive and jump outside their comfort zones helps to maximize what UNLV has to offer.”
Inspired by the 2017 launch of Stonewall Suites, a floor for LGBTQ+ residents, student Anna Opara and alumna Sharon Uche (’17 BA Communication studies) championed the new identity-based floor. “We thought that Howell Town would complement UNLV’s ethnic diversity in a way that would support students earning their degrees while validating their identities,” Opara says.
Opara and Uche researched similar floors at other universities, including Stanford University, Virginia Polytechnic University, and University of California Berkeley. Opara also solicited support from the Black Student Organization, National Society of Black Engineers chapter, and the Residence Hall Association before putting together a formal proposal to UNLV Housing & Residential Life to approve the floor.
The floor’s name emerged when they learned that John Howell was the first African American in Clark County to legally own land. Since opening for the fall 2018 semester, students learned that Howell’s land is now part of the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas. This discovery led to a collaboration with the team at the Springs Preserve; the residents are planning a floor trip led by Preserve archeologist Nathan Harper in the spring semester.
Beyond Different, Daring, Diverse
Residential life coordinator Andrew Lignelli noted that the floor is part of efforts on campus to improve resources and support for minority and first-generation students. UNLV is ranked the most diverse university in the country and is a designated “minority-serving institution” by the federal government.
“Over the last couple of years, students have expressed that UNLV is very good at being a ‘minority-having institution’ versus a true ‘minority-serving institution’ — meaning that beyond numbers, there aren’t enough dedicated resources for students of color at UNLV,” Lignelli said.
He oversees South Complex, home of Howell Town. “We felt like this type of floor community would serve a need for black and African American students to create a community where they could feel invested through the validation of a salient and traditionally underrepresented community.”
Resident assistant D’Andre Cooper added, “Howell Town gives us something special and as a result, our residents feel very connected as a group of similar, like-minded people.”
That’s something resident Imani Satterwhite can attest to. Though the youngest of three children, Satterwhite says she basically grew up by herself. “I get to be in an environment that I didn’t get to grow up in. Anyone of color I saw was a minority, but here I see what family can be like.”
Residents have attended campus events together and hosted several guest speakers from UNLV’s Student Diversity and Social Justice office, Greek Life, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council (the historically African American, international Greek lettered fraternities and sororities council).
Assistant director of residential life Orlando White notes that Howell Town developed as UNLV hosted the Men of Color Retreat in September 2017 and Black Girls at the Round Table in March 2018. At those events, he said, “it became clear that there was both a desire and a need for dedicated spaces to explore identity in meaningful ways.…Howell Town offers strength through celebrating and exploring diversity rather than just having diversity or the presence of difference. These resources and the connection between them are critical components to student success.”