By Miranda Suarez
BU News Service
Tae’Shaona Matthews said she could not have returned to Boston University without the Harriet E. Richards Cooperative House.
Sitting near the fireplace in the house’s dark, wood-paneled dining room, Matthews said expenses weren’t a problem her freshman year, thanks to her enrollment in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and, after she left the program, financial aid.
After that, though, she said her financial award changed and no longer covered enough to allow her to return to school.
Then, she said, a friend told her about the Harriet E. Richards Cooperative House, which offers discounted room and board to women dependent on financial aid at Boston University. After a rushed application process, she was accepted and was able to return to Boston for her sophomore fall semester.
Now Matthews, a junior majoring in anthropology, has lived in the house for two years.
“It was like, if you do not get into this house, you’re not coming back to school,” she said. “Which definitely isn’t, like, everybody’s experience here. But it definitely shows how important this house is, that it can like, be a safety net for a lot of people.”
The house has a convenient acronym: the HER House. For the 24 women who live there, the HER House provides not only a discount on living expenses, but a sense of place the dorms don’t always offer.
“The fact that we all have like, some like financial need—we all have differing experiences, but some financial need—we’re all women. It really, like, brings you together as a community,” Matthews said.
RISING COSTS AND A MORE AFFORDABLE ALTERNATIVE
According to an email to the university from President Brown, tuition will rise over $2,500 for the 2017-2018 academic year.
On top of $52,082 in tuition and fees, BU will charge $15,270 for room and board. That totals over $67,000 before financial aid.
That room and board price covers BU’s most basic offering: a double, triple, or quad room with a standard dining plan. Other plans can be more expensive.
For women who need financial help, the HER House is an on-campus alternative. Shannon Schmutz, Residence Life’s liaison with the house, said HER House rent for the entire spring 2017 semester cost $1,392. That’s over $6,000 cheaper than one semester with the basic room and board package.
Schmutz said HER House rent rises by the same percentage as BU housing rent each year, “to continue keeping the budget aligned with inflation, and the market.”
According to Boston’s Assessing Office, BU owns the HER House’s building. However, Schmutz said the house has a lot of autonomy. Schmutz said Residence Life partners with the HER House help manage the day-to-day and long term budgets and dispense cash, but they provide no direct funding.
The HER House was founded with affordability in mind. The house’s website says Lucy Jenkins Franklin, BU’s first dean of women, brought the idea from France to Boston and got it off the ground in 1928 with an initial donation of $100 from her friend Harriet Eliza Richards.
In 1940, the house moved down the street to its current spot at 191 Bay State Rd., a 4-floor brownstone mansion on a quiet, tree-shaded street.
The HER House’s Lifebook lays out house policies as well as the criteria for prospective residents. Candidates to live in the HER House must be women (both cis- and transgender) who are at least sophomores and have a 2.0 GPA or higher. They also must have their financial eligibility determined by Residence Life and the Office of Financial Aid.
BU spokesman Colin Riley said he “can’t go through the chapter and verse” of determining eligibility but said the process was similar to the way the university evaluates all financial aid.
“The key is that it’s high need and not a lot of aid,” he said.
COOPERATION AND COMMUNITY
According to the Lifebook, an executive board runs the house with the help of several committees. The committees deal with sub-issues like house activities, public relations, and inclusivity. A clerk schedules each resident’s mandatory chores.
Ruby Rosenberg, a HER House resident and head of the public relations committee, said she is responsible for three chores a week: tidying the kitchen on Tuesday and Thursday nights and completing one bigger weekend chore, like cleaning out the industrial fridges in the house’s basement kitchen.
“And it’s like, this way I really kind of get to appreciate the space more because I am literally putting energy into making it better,” she said.
Rosenberg sat on a couch in the French Room, a simple, sunny space with pale yellow walls and windows facing Bay State Road. She said she suffers from mental illness, and the house provides stability and friendship she did not find living in Warren Towers or Myles Annex.
“In any other dorm situation, I lived in, my roommates were okay, but I never felt like I was really in a home. Not to mention the financial benefits,” Rosenberg said.
House secretary Nicole Lukas, sitting at the dark stone-topped table in the French Room, agreed. When she lived in Towers, her room was a room and nothing else. “Whereas as soon as I moved into the HER House, I went home for winter break my sophomore year, and my mom kept catching me saying ‘when I’m home’ and referring to Boston.”
Trying to deal with financial challenges at a private university factors into that sense of home.
“The HER House is a community I can relate to on a financial level. And I think that isn’t really available in the rest of campus,” Rosenberg said.
That’s not to say every resident is in the same financial straits. Matthews emphasized that not every resident needed the house to stay in school.
However, Matthews said living other women who have gone through the rigmarole of appealing financial aid decisions and applying for scholarships helped her feeling of isolation.
“Living in this house is great because it helps you financially, but then you get so much knowledge from the people that live here,” she said.