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I-House on the move? Students, administrators mull move to East Campus

International House—one of the few buildings remaining on Central Campus—may soon find a new home.

The International Association is in talks with administrators about moving I-House to East Campus starting in January from its location on Central Campus. Sitting on Alexander Avenue, the house is currently surrounded by office buildings and apartments undergoing demolition, as Central is being phased out from housing undergraduates.

“We’re looking for a space on East that would serve as a touchdown point for I-House,” said Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost/vice president for student affairs.

McMahon explained that in the past weeks, she has repeatedly sat down with the Student Affairs leadership team to come up with a plan to create a visible space for undergraduate and graduate international students.

The goal is to have a short-term solution in place by January, McMahon explained.

Senior Paulina Guerra, president of International Association, wrote in an email that the potential move to East Campus brought her “a lot of relief” and noted that the location change would make it more accessible for first-years.

“I-House staying on Central Campus while everything around it is torn down is a source of a lot of discontentment within the international community,” Guerra wrote.

In June, The Chronicle reported that International House was to remain on Central for at least a year with no concrete plans on the horizon. Moreover, International Association students said they hadn’t heard about the plan until Spring 2019. 

Larry Moneta, former vice president for student affairs, stepped down at the end of the academic year, leaving the decision of an alternative location to his successor, McMahon. Since then, I-House has continued to remain open on 300 Alexander Avenue.

“Even when Central Campus was active, I-House's location was not ideal simply due to a lack of visibility,” Guerra wrote in an email. “With only one bus serving the Alexander Drive stop, I-House has become nearly invisible.” 

To the displeasure of staff and visitors, Guerra added, the Swift Express does not operate between 2 and 6 p.m., which represents a significant chunk of the house’s hours from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is possible to take the C1: East-West bus and walk to I-House, but Guerra mentioned that the option is unappetizing for most students. 

“An uphill walk in an area that is soon to be busy with demolition is not attractive or welcoming to anyone,” she wrote.

Guerra also raised the possibility of health hazards for those who visit or staff I-House as it becomes encircled by the demolition.

Over the summer, Moneta wrote in an email to The Chronicle that administration “would never permit anyone to occupy an unsafe environment.”

Li-Chen Chin, assistant vice president for intercultural programs in student affairs, noted that she has visited the I-House several times during demolition. 

“The staff continue to carry their important work and serve the international community as well as the University at large,” she wrote in an email. 

Senior Shyam Pradheep, president of the International Association, agreed with the excellent work of the I-House staff but is concerned about the message Duke is sending to international students. 

He noted that the University must prioritize creating an international center. As of now, Pradheep added, I-House doesn’t have the space or the resources to provide international students with the help they would need to have a good Duke experience. Over the long term, availability of resources needs to be improved, so that I-House staff can do better. 

“The I-House staff does a phenomenal job, but it’s really hard for them to do the best possible job in terms of what they are given,” Pradheep explained.

He mentioned that McMahon has been receptive to these demands. Since taking office in July, she has been eager to discuss both short-term and long-term plans and goals for the I-House. 

Pradheep said that it was the first time in a while that he had received as much support from the administration. Before McMahon took office, he recalled that the International Association continuously encountered backlash from the administration when addressing issues of content. 

“She took a call with me as soon as she took office, and I think that says a lot,” he said. 

McMahon also stressed the importance of longer-term strategies in the form of outreach possibilities, resources and projects. Having been an international graduate student in London herself, McMahon said she understands the different needs and struggles of international students. 

“To me, understanding the global footprint of Duke is really important,” she said. “We know that people’s ability to make a ton of adjustments in a short period of time needs to be complemented by additional resources.”

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