PALANA finds new home in Palmer

By RACHEL LU

SHIRLEY MAO
The Pan-African Latino Asian Native American (PALANA) welcomed its first class as a social house last Fall, and now occupies Palmer house. The new space will allow PALANA to host larger social events.

PALANA’s first party in its new digs was a resounding success —by the end of the night, people crowded on the back porch to join the excitement.

Starting this year, PALANA (Pan-African, Latino, Asian and Native American) is recognized by Community Council as an official social house, and has been granted a new, larger living space in Palmer House, previously reserved for superblocks.

“PALANA has grown into a bigger community, so we needed a bigger space to live and create the environment we wanted to see,” said Jayla Johnson ’21, co-president of PALANA and resident of the new house.

Johnson said PALANA envisions itself as a “multi-cultural innovation hub” where everyone feels welcome. According to some of its newer members, this vision has already proved successful.

SHIRLEY MAO
PALANA hopes to use its new, larger living space to host community dinners and residential events.

“PALANA is a space to come and decompress from the stresses that we face during the academic school day,” said Kayla Richards ’22, a member of the new pledge class. “Community is the first word that comes to mind.”

Richards said she also appreciated “not feeling like you’re being watched or expected to say the right thing when talking about certain issues and just be people.”

PALANA was first established in 1991 as the Black and Latino Bi-Cultural Center in Fletcher House. Later, it was moved to Carr Hall, which now houses the Anderson Freeman Resource Center, and renamed with its current moniker. Until this year, PALANA had been an academic special interest house at 97 Adirondack View. 

PALANA has long served as a sanctuary for marginalized students at Middlebury and has formed a significant part of its members’ college experience.

“The people in PALANA are the only ones I really connected with, and I felt close to,” said Luis Daza ’22, a member of the new pledge class. Daza said he joined the organization knowing that he is supporting the work of his friends. 

When PALANA’s physical space could no longer accommodate the house’s growing membership, its members appealed to Community Council for a bigger place to host activities and social events. 

According to Tre Stephens ’21, treasurer of PALANA, the process of becoming a social house was time-consuming and involved a lot of planning, but Community Council was overall supportive of PALANA’s ideas.

“PALANA itself has served many functions throughout its time here,” Stephens said. “I think the [Community Council] knew it wanted to give us Palmer, but it wasn’t sure if we were actually about it. We definitely showed them that we are.”

Members of PALANA hope the new space will prompt increased inclusivity at Middlebury. In the previous eight-person house, according to Stephens, the tight-knit group of PALANA members who lived together became closed off to the rest of the organization, due in part to the intimacy of the small space.

In its transition to social house, PALANA leadership knew it needed to change the atmosphere to welcome more people.

“This has become a place for people of all different backgrounds — and not just racial diversity. It is a predominantly POC [people of color] space, and that is really important because there are a lot of people on this campus who feel like they can’t interact in the social atmospheres,” house resident Christian Kummer ’22 said. “We are not trying to isolate ourselves from the community. People here care about inclusivity and talking about it based on our experiences.”

A few weeks into living in the new house, PALANA’s members are already feeling its impact. PALANA members agreed that Palmer had previously been a predominantly white space on campus. With PALANA’s new location, its members feel more comfortable being around the other social houses in the area because they have a place to claim as their own.

“Culture is a part of identity, and PALANA is a place I get to share in other people’s cultures and where I am surrounded by my culture, too,” Richards said. “I feel like without PALANA as a space, a huge part of myself would be lost. I would feel like there is a war between who I am and how I’ve grown up and how I’m expected to be while at Middlebury.”

According to Stephens, PALANA will release its official events calendar soon. PALANA leadership hopes to host community dinners and residential events for people to interact with each other. 

However, its members also hope to keep their new space casual, spontaneous and full of surprises, to preserve the comfort of their living environment. 

“We are not going to go out there and spread the word. It’s an open space where people can come to us and learn, but we’re not going to do all the emotional labor and spread the word about being POC, because everyone has very different experiences,” house resident Alondra Carmona ’21 said.

Stephens encourages students to come visit and explore the space.

“It is a place where not only under-prepresented students at Middlebury go to chill out and live, it is a home away from home,” he said. “Anyone is welcome here.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the leadership titles of PALANA board members Tre Stephens and Jayla Johnson.

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