Through the Student Lens – Theme house president works to create important spaces for advocacy, healing, and education on and off campus

Michelle Aum ’25
Majors: Neuroscience, Women and Gender Studies
Hometown: Naperville, Illinois

What is a theme house and do their members contribute to the Wheaton community and the student living experience? Check out the president of Tulip House and how her work goes beyond the theme house as you take a look “Through the Student Lens.”

1. What value do you think theme houses bring to campus and what impact do you think they have on both the Wheaton community and the student experience?

I think that the theme houses bring a sense of community and belonging to the students who live there. Most of us don’t know each other when we start living in the house as we’re all in different years and classes, but since we know that we have the theme house in common, it’s easy to get over those initial barriers.

It’s a group of people that you can always go to. Our relationships often have different dynamics than other relationships because we’re all living in the same structure—which is always fun. Also, my hometown is far away so I’m not able to go home often, usually only for the longer breaks. So for me, living in a house with a dynamic like Tulip House feels more welcoming and comfortable than a dorm environment.

However, I don’t think  theme houses are only reserved for the students who live there. All the theme houses host events during the year, many in their actual house, and they create spaces for other students to engage in their theme as well. The communities are not only built by and catered to the people who live there, but are also for the people who visit and are interested in the houses’ themes as well.

2. Can you describe how theme houses are structured as well as the purpose and duties of each theme house’s residents and executive board?

There are several different theme houses around campus that revolve around different interests and identities. For example, there’s a theme centered around sustainability, a feminist perspective house, a house for women and femme-presenting people of color, and many more. These themes vary and can change, so it ultimately reflects the current study body and the spaces that they are interested in creating for themselves and others.  

For Tulip, our house is structured around our mission which is to heal from and advocate against interpersonal violence. We are called Tulip because we follow the Tulip model of healing which acknowledges that the complexity of healing after trauma is nonlinear, similar to how a tulip opens and closes. We were created in 2018 out of a need for more spaces on campus for survivors and the desire to take a more active role in reducing the number of assaults year to year. Our goal is to provide a safe place and resources for students who may have had previous experiences with this or are interested in the preventional work. As these experiences can often  be isolating, we want to be a community where these individuals can feel comfortable speaking up and just existing.

Our board is similar to other club boards where we typically have a president(s), a vice-president, a treasurer, a house manager, a social media coordinator, and an events manager. All members participate in event planning and other activities, but the board exists to guide the process and help in any way we can. They also are there for the other members in any way that has to do with the house!

3. What was it about Tulip House that spoke to you and how did you become one of the house presidents?

One of my friends began living in the house our second semester of our first year. From what I heard from her, I was really drawn to the house environment and the student-run program for healing. The idea that students saw a problem on this campus and took the initiative to not only bring awareness, but also to better themselves and the people around them for it was really inspiring. The year that I joined there was a lot of transition in terms of leadership, so I was able to get involved fairly quickly.

4. Can you talk about the impact Tulip House has on the health, mental health, or wellness of the campus community and what kind of campus events your house holds?

A lot of our events have to do with healing and violence prevention whether that be by providing a space for survivors to speak comfortably, or a more educational setting where students learn about resources and individual action. In the past, we’ve had Title IX informational panels, survivor vigils, decorating denim for Denim Day, and more. I hope that other students know that our house can be used as another resource, especially if they feel like they have no place to go.

5. In your internship reflection essay, you said that your internship allowed you “to become a better advocate and student” and that many of Tulip House’s main goals align with the organization you interned for. You also commented that you were able to learn more about “potential programming, discourse, and growth that Tulip House can do to be more effective on campus.” Can you talk more about this and plans to engage the Wheaton community in that discourse?

During the summer, I worked at a non-profit that provided permanent housing to women experiencing homelessness in Chicago. Many of the women I worked with have faced violence and other trauma in the past and being unhoused is traumatic in itself. I got to witness the programming and resources provided for them. Being among professionals and seeing the work that they do taught me so much in terms of community healing and collective action, and I definitely want to bring what I learned back to Tulip House. We are working on doing more within Wheaton on intersectional issues and expanding our efforts to the communities around us. Wheaton can be a bubble at times, so making the conscious effort to leave campus and continue our work is important. We are privileged to have access to housing, food, and education, and we want to make sure that we do the best with it that we can.

Michelle is just one of the many engaging students here at Wheaton. As parents and guardians, you are an integral part of our community. “Through the Student Lens” brings the campus to you, as seen through the eyes of our students, the many roles they play and the experiences they gain during their time here at Wheaton.