Each Monday night, a group of students with diverse interests — from technical innovation and development, to health care, to collaborative creation, to indigenous cultures, to building a campus community that promotes wellness — gather for a communal buffet dinner in the basement of a former convent on West 113th Street.
Though this may sound like the setup for a movie, it is in fact a unique Columbia residential space: SIC House, a residence-based community comprised of multiple special interest communities, which opened its doors to undergraduates in fall 2013. Students living in SIC House belong to one of five distinct special interest communities — Application Development Initiative (ADI), Manhattan House, Student Wellness Project, Creative Commons and Columbia Pre-Health House. Together, in their shared home, they coalesce to form one larger SIC House community.
As part of SIC House, the resident communities each host six campus-wide events each year, often collaborating with other communities in the building, and also share a weekly meal, provided by Columbia Dining Services, in the house’s multipurpose programming space. The University chef has also visited the space to offer its residents cooking lessons geared toward cooking for large groups.
“Our weekly dinner is an opportunity for people from all the different communities to share a meal together,” says Julian NoiseCat CC’15, student coordinator of Manhattan House, a communal living space for students who have familial ties to or are interested in learning more about Native American and indigenous peoples and cultures. “I think it’s mostly that everyone who lives in SIC House wants to know everyone else who lives in SIC House.”
Student members of Creative Commons prepare music for an event. Photo: Angel Wang CC’16
“The common space on each floor, the communal dinners, the SIC leaders and strong resident advisers all contribute to a dynamic residential option for students,” says Anna Schmidt-MacKenzie, director of Residential Life. “Residential Life believes creating intentional living and learning environments contributes to the optimal sense of scholarly community for students.”
Columbia’s Special Interest Communities Program was created by the Intercultural Resource Center in the 1990s, sparked by students’ desire for residential spaces for students who shared common interests. In 2005, the program expanded; it now consists of 15 distinct communities, housing more than 175 students and providing them with the training and support necessary to make the most of their memberships in the special interest communities, including a Special Interest Community Orientation designed for student community leaders to learn about their responsibilities within their communities.
With its opening, SIC House joined other residential communities, all housed in different buildings around campus, including Casa Latin@, Community Health House, GreenBorough, Jazz House, Metta House, Pan-African House, Potluck House, Q House, Students for Substance Free Space and Writers House. Unlike these other houses, however, SIC House is the first residential building to offer multiple special interest communities the opportunity to live collaboratively under one roof, allowing students to live within a self-selected community while also connecting with a larger group of community-focused students with diverse interests.
SIC House residents at the house's weekly dinner. Photo: Student members of Creative Commons prepare music for an event. Photo: Angel Wang CC’16
Together, the communities of SIC House create a home of varied and eclectic interests and passions. “It’s so funny walking through the different floors because each floor has an entirely different environment — the wall decorations, the music they play. The smell is actually even a little bit different,” says Angel Wang CC’16, one of SIC House’s two residential advisors. “On the fifth floor, [home to ADI,] everyone is walking around with their computers — all PCs — and they’re all looking over each other’s screens and helping each other code. … On the fourth floor, [home to Manhattan House,] there’s Native American art on the walls … and, on the first, [home to Columbia Pre-Health House,] information about pre-health requirements and the MCAT.”
But while SIC House allows each community its own space, it also successfully creates a cohesive community out of five disparate ones. Residents often hang out on each other’s floors and collaborate together on events, such as the Spotify Music Hackathon, organized several times by Creative Commons and ADI, as well as with special interest communities outside of SIC House, including a Dinner and Discussion on Food Sustainability and Environmental Justice, hosted with Metta House and GreenBorough, and the SIC House Backyard Back to School BBQ, which included a partnership with Jazz House.
“I think a lot of the misperception [about special interest communities] is that you sign up for a community for a certain group of like-minded friends and then you just stay in that group,” says Wang. “But it’s very much oriented toward fostering community throughout Columbia’s campus. Students in the house plan a lot of events harnessing their own skills and creativity to promote that among the greater student population. Because there is such a diverse group of students at Columbia … it’s very important to try to have groups that highlight how we are all a part of one shared space.”
By Elena Hecht BC ’09 and Sydney Schwartz Gross JRN ’05; contributing reporting by Sally Whalen CC’17. This story appeared in the 2013–2014 Columbia College Annual Report.