Pittsburgh, PA–   Inside the InterCultural House in Oakland, the student housemembers debate the remarks made by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry against former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Harris-Perry and a panel of guests mocked the Romney family and made parallels between the family and the perceived lack of diversity of the Republican party. Harris-Perry even remarked that Romney’s grandson should grow up and marry North West, the daughter of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.

Joshua Brackett, a social work graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, and David Cohen, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, held opposing views on the issue.

Brackett believed it was political posturing by Romney to try to win new voters in anticipation of the forthcoming election cycle.

On the other hand, Cohen thought the comments made by Harris-Perry and her guests were a step backward in tolerance and diversity.

“I do not think [Romney’s] son adopted a Black child to gain votes,” Cohen said. He added that he blamed MSNBC for reporting on a family photo and not on more important issues that affect Americans, such as the economy. “If anything, there should be more discussions on classism or injustices in the criminal justice system,” Cohen added, citing The New Jim Crow, a book by Michelle Alexander which explores how a person’s race and class might determine how they interact with the criminal justice system.

Both men, Cohen and Brackett, are White and are members of the InterCultural House, a house that embraces diversity in an ever evolving world. Located at 272 N. Dithridge Street in Oakland, the InterCultural House was founded in 1968, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The InterCultural House recruits undergraduate and graduate students from local colleges and universities to become one of its 14 housemembers. It was founded by the University of Pittsburgh and the Gertrude Stein Foundation and was created to embrace the legacy of peace and equality left by the slain civil rights leader.

The arrangement of the InterCultural House is similar to any other college dwelling: each housemate has a single furnished room (some rooms include a sink or full bathroom) and partakes in house chores. Cable, wifi, utilities, and laundry service are even included in the rent dues.

However, the mission of the InterCultural House sets it apart from any other college dwelling. House members must be dedicated to discussing solutions that will ease racial tensions in America, particularly tensions between Blacks and Whites.

The discussion on Harris-Perry and Romney are common and held frequently. House members of all races discuss issues in American race relations. In the past, housemembers have worked with community leaders and other local advocates, including filmmaker Chris Ivey who is known for his “East of Liberty” documentary series.

“We want to get a diverse group of students to talk about the internal racial tensions that still exists in America between Blacks and Whites. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it,” said Jon Tyler, a former University of Pittsburgh political science professor and a founding member of the house. Tyler said the house accepts applications year round to fill vacancies for its school year and summer housing terms. Students participate in panels, talk to local community leaders, and take field trips, and because of the mission of the house, most current and past house members have placed being a house member on their resumes and have used the experience to gain access to internships and various career placements.

Talking about race can be uncomfortable and elicit a range of emotions for many people, added Tyler.  As a result, recruitment for a program based around race relations is an extreme challenge.

“It’s bothersome because there is beauty in honestly talking about race relations,” adds Tyler. “That’s where the solutions are.”

On January 20, in celebration of Martin Luther King Day, the house members will present on a person who embodies King’s principles and upholds his ideals. The event is free and open to the public.


PLACE: The InterCultural House (272 N. Dithridge St., Pittsburgh, PA 15213)

DATE: Monday, January 20, 2014

TIME: 7:00 p.m.

FOOD: Free food

College students interested in finding out more about the InterCultural House can email resident director Jeremy Edwards at jeremyedwardsich@gmail.com or visit it online at http://www.interculturalhouse.org

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