Three new student theme housing communities were approved for the 2024-2025 academic year: Dar al-Islam (House of Islam), the Brooks-Vigil Theme Community for Native students, and the International Theme Community. The new communities are the first to be added since the creation of the Sylvia Rivera Floor in Moore in 2018. The college now hosts 13 identity-based theme communities in addition to the Humphries House co-op (the Zü), Marsh Arts House, and language theme houses.
Dar al-Islam will take up the entirety of the second, third and fourth floors of Residence Hall A, sharing the first floor with the Amherst College Emergency Medical Services (ACEMS) office. Brooks-Vigil will be on the second and third floors of Tyler, and the International Theme Community on the fourth floor of Morris Pratt.
“[Dar al-Islam] will be an environment where the Muslim community can spend time together and practice traditions that can be more challenging when done individually, like proper dress,” said Zakaria Shenwari ’25, president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA).
Petitioning for Dar al-Islam was a years-long goal of the MSA, he said. Their e-board put together a proposal in the fall of 2023, in hopes that a Muslim theme community would deepen the sense of community beyond MSA programming.
Additionally, he said, Dar al-Islam would provide an opportunity for Muslim students to live in single-gender housing “to the extent that it fulfills the practice of Islam.” The suite setup of Res Hall A, he said, allows for such privacy to be maintained. Each suite takes up one floor, which will be gender-segregated.
While the International Theme Community does not have one religious or ethnic affiliation, Snigdha Ranjan ’25 — program organizer for the Center for International Student Engagement (CISE) — said that the theme house, similarly, seeks to strengthen the community of international students.
“We want to create a centrally located residential space that is accessible all the time where we can have political and cultural conversations that we might not have in CISE [in Keefe],” Ranjan said. “Those are conversations that we want to have outside of institutional structures.”
Another goal of creating an international theme house was being able to express one’s culture freely. Whether that be through dress or through food, Ranjan said, students should not have to think about how their cultural expression might look different to their peers.
“We usually have to reserve a space, and ask other residents if it’s okay,” she said. “It was not always easy.”
For the Brooks-Vigil Theme Community, one of the main goals of creating a new theme house is drawing attention to the Native and Indigenous communities at Amherst themselves, said Native and Indigenous Student Association (NISA) coordinator Sydney Harris ’26.
“The goals are to embrace Indigenous cultures and have the opportunity for people to learn about them,” she said. “We’re looking at it as a way to say, ‘Hey, we are here on campus. There are Native Americans here. We deserve to be here just like everybody else.’”
A theme house has also been a long-term goal of NISA’s, to further cement the tight-knit community of Native and Indigenous students that exists on campus. Additionally, Harris added, she and other members of NISA hope that Brooks-Vigil will encourage more Native and Indigenous high school students to apply to Amherst.
“I feel like NISA is a big reason for why I’m still here at Amherst,” she said. “Everyone is so supportive … it was a place that helped me grow as a person.”
Applications for all theme housing for 2024-2025 remain open until Feb. 12.