This week, we have compiled the most important stories from the decade pertaining to academic program, diversity on campus, and residential life and student housing. We have pulled a selection of actual headlines from former issues, and condensed and synthesized stories relevant to each headline in order to showcase some of the most significant moments and enduring issues covered by the Orient. While our compilation is comprehensive, it is by no means complete. We encourage readers to pursue these headlines and others in our online archives, and to read our future installments of this series over the next several weeks.
Topics to come: College finances, admissions and reputation, environment and service, and Maine and Brunswick issues.
A decade after frats, College Houses evolve, October 12, 2007
Since March of 1997, when the Board of Trustees approved recommendations of the Trustee Commission on Residential Life to phase out fraternities at Bowdoin in favor of the more "inclusive" College Houses, the College House System has steadily evolved and matured. In an Orient article from October of 2007, a decade after the College House System replaced fraternities, students and administrators commented on the role of houses at Bowdoin. Former Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley said that the houses had greatly improved the sense of community on campus. According to the Senior Survey conducted by the Office of Institutional Research (OIR), in 1996 only 28.9 percent of graduating seniors were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with the "sense of community on campus," the Orient reported. In contrast, 69.7 percent of the Class of 2006 and 74.2 percent of the Class of 2007 reported satisfaction with the campus community.
College officials commented on the benefits of adding Thorne Dining Hall to cover dining needs when fraternities were removed, and how well students had embraced the larger space. President Barry Mills also commented on the positive effects of eliminating hard alcohol from campus along with fraternities, stating at the time that the policy "has to be one of the reasons why the incidence of alcohol poisoning on this campus is a fraction of what it is on other college campuses," the Orient reported.
Despite the steady improvements within the College House System, some perceptions of the houses and issues raised by students have not changed over the decade. An Orient article from October of 2006 conducted an investigation into the College House System. Based on interviews with student members of the houses and College officials, the Orient found differing opinions on the "unclear role" for the houses on campus, varying interpretations of intra-house dynamics, and different perceptions of the Inter-House Council's (IHC) effectiveness.
In an Orient article from October of 2007, then-Director of Residential Life Kim Pacelli explained that College Houses mainly receive credit for throwing campus-wide parties, rather than intellectual programming, academic lectures, or other events. During a faculty meeting in November of 2003, a number of faculty questioned what their role should be in the College House system. Though the Commission on Residential Life's 1997 interim report suggested that faculty might involve themselves with the houses, it did not explicitly say how or to what extent. Faculty said that students needed to initiate the interactions through dinners or plan more intellectual events to involve faculty members, without mimicking classroom lectures or feigning interest.
Similarly, in a 2006 article, the Orient reported that many students thought the most common and high-profile College House events were campus-wide parties. While students acknowledged that campus-wides do have a role in creating community on campus and fill a necessary void for parties, one thought that "a lot more could be done." Another student observed that a College House party "demystifies underage drinking to the point that people are more responsible," the Orient reported, serving an important—if not technically legal—role on campus. Such observations mirror an op-ed submission to the Orient in 2002, in which one student wrote, "21-year-olds are almost expected to break the law for the house system to function."
Along with conflicting opinions about the priority of events held at College Houses, many students have questioned what exactly the role of the house system should be on campus. In February of 2001, the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) held a student-only discussion for improvements to the house system. The two major problems cited by students were "the lack of choice in entering the house system" as first years, and "the lack of autonomy of individual houses," the Orient reported. Given that first years are automatically affiliated with a house, students reported a lack of ownership, responsibility or bonding with the house, other upper-class affiliates, and house events. Student opinions conflicted at the meeting, as some said that all first years should feel welcomed by the houses, while others thought there should be a choice to opt into the system by selecting a house.
When the College abolished fraternities, the goal was to create College Houses where all student affiliates could feel included, not to develop a particular identity or stigma. Students said that the goal was counterproductive to creating a lasting relationship, however, as each house "just seems like another dorm, not a house," the Orient reported. Some students applauded the openness to diversity, while others expressed a desire for houses to build a particular character and identity.
Along with these questions, students have investigated the role of Residential Life in the house member selection process and the role of the IHC in governing house activities through the year. An Orient article from March of 2006 quoted differing student perspectives on the experience of living in a house. Some students wanted larger blocks in applications, such that a large group of friends could take over and shape a house, while another student said that living in a house "should be less like settling down and more like branching out." Pacelli said that student commitment was the most important: "The most successful house dynamics aren't necessarily driven by the composition of blocks, but rather the eagerness and willingness of any configuration of house residents to commit themselves to the tasks the house wants to accomplish."
In the same Orient article, students debated the effectiveness of the IHC and its weekly meetings with house members to plan activities, discuss programming funding, and work out logistics for parties and keg registration. Student leaders in the house system offered conflicting perspectives on the role of the IHC. Some students encouraged IHC meetings to increase communication between houses, while others said the meetings are "tedious," noting that the IHC does not need to play an active role if the College Houses do their jobs individually. Ultimately, Pacelli said at the time that with so many differing opinions and suggestions, Residential Life may not have the final say in how the system should be run: "All Bowdoin students own a stake in the houses and, in my mind, the system is only as successful as the student body in aggregate is engaged in it," she said.
College House System subject of campus enthusiasm, debate, March 3, 2006
Beyond evolving questions over the role and direction of the College House System, Residential Life and the IHC have implemented reforms to keep up with student demand and comments.
In September of 2003, the IHC decided that chem-free Howell House could register kegs in the hope of making parties at Howell more popular. Because the IHC can register six of the 10 kegs on a given weekend night to College Houses, when Howell House had a party, other houses typically registered the extra kegs. By "hypothetically" registering kegs, Howell House wanted to reduce the number of competing parties to increase attendance. Student reviews were mixed; while some thought it a positive change, others did not think the policy would draw students—who would otherwise be drinking—to Howell House.
A student-led initiative in the fall of 2003 successfully doubled College House budgets, increasing from $7,500 to $15,000 for the 2004-2005 academic year. House leaders wanted the opportunity to plan a greater variety of activities and programming, and the administration planned to use the leaders in raising the $2 million in necessary funding from "generous donors."
Over the years, the College has seen varied interest and demand to live in College houses. In February of 2003, Residential Life changed the house application process, which previously only allowed students to apply in singles or doubles, to allow students to apply in blocks of up to eight students. Typically, students looking to live in large groups would safely block together in other dorms. In March, Residential Life saw a 30 percent increase in College House applications as a result of the changes. By March of 2006, the College received a record 216 applications for 150 spots in six College Houses.
Following the construction of two first year dorms—East and West Halls—and the renovations of the other six first year bricks, Residential Life needed two more College Houses to evenly pair with the dorms. Thus, in 2007, the College accepted applications for Reed and Burnett Houses, new to the College House System, creating 200 total residential spots in the houses. After 300 interested students took applications, only 175 students applied, leaving room for students to lottery into the houses in April.
In February of 2008, 218 students applied to live in 197 spots in eight houses. In February of 2009, a record-breaking 300 students applied for the 197 spots, including 28 rising juniors and seniors.
Res Life compensates for housing crunch, January 26, 2001
The problem of cramped housing has endured over the course of the decade, due to imbalances in students' choice of study abroad semesters, building renovation projects, and changes to lottery policies that alternately alleviated and aggravated housing woes.
The College housing lottery in 2000 left "approximately 55 rising sophomores without housing," according to a May 5, 2000 article, resulting in a waiting list. Though then-Director of Residential Life Bob Graves said that his office had expected a waiting list of about 20 students, he was "surprised by the on-campus housing demand of upper-class students." A September 8, 2000 Orient article reported that the College had acquired the former Alpha Delta Phi house (now Howell House) on June 18, and chem-free residents moved in at the beginning of the fall semester.
A January 26, 2001 Orient article reported that Residential Life secured accommodations for 46 students in rented rooms at the Stowe Inn on Federal St., which was not yet College housing. In this case, the shortage in housing was primarily caused by the closing of Ladd House, then known as 14 College St., and students returning from fall semester study abroad programs. The 14 College St. residence was to undergo renovations to comply with safety and disability, and would be available for residency in the following year.
According to a May 2001 Orient article, housing shortage problems surfaced again just months later, when 81 rising sophomores were left without housing during the spring lottery, in part due to a lottery policy that allowed students to "pass" when their number was called if no housing was satisfactory to them.
For the 2004-2005 academic year, the College was obligated to rent apartments on Elm Street and School Street to handle the "unusually long" wait list of 78 students who still needed housing by the end of the summer.
When East and West Halls were constructed, first years lived in two-room triples in the dorms until the other first year brick renovations were complete. East and West Halls then held two-room doubles, while the other bricks contained three-room quads. In December of 2005, Residential Life prepared the College for a slight housing imbalance when juniors returned from abroad in the spring. According to Registrar Christine Cote, the housing crunch was caused by classes getting progressively larger each year and more students choosing to live on campus. The College could not accommodate all the abroad students' requests to live in doubles, so some were forced to live in crash rooms in first year bricks, Brunswick Apartment doubles converted to triples, and one-room doubles in Stowe Inn or Chamberlain Hall.
The following year, in March of 2006, the College announced that more students were planning to live on campus than usual and was forced to make adjustments to its housing options based on student input and square footage of residences. Residential Life converted all of the quads in Stowe Hall and three of the quads in Howard Hall into five-person quints, transformed 20 of the 55 doubles in Brunswick Apartments into forced triples, and made half of the singles in Stowe Inn and Smith House into doubles. The Orient followed up on the tighter housing arrangements in October of 2007 and found that most students had adjusted without complaint.
Similar circumstances arose in the 2009-2010 academic year: an imbalance of off-campus study and housing preferences resulted in tighter living conditions, particularly the 25 Brunswick Apartment doubles that became forced triples.
In the April of 2008 housing lottery, housing preferences shifted for seniors as 97 groups of students sought 81 quad rooms. Pacelli noted that some groups of sophomores were able to select Pine Street Apartments, something she does not remember happening in the past, as seniors instead selected Harpswell Apartments, Coles Tower, and Chamberlain Hall as preferred living spots closer to campus.
Plan could create special co-op dorm, February 25, 2005
Beyond College Houses and off-campus housing options, Bowdoin has also discussed other expansions to housing options in the past, including co-op dorms, quiet living options, and gender-neutral housing.
In February of 2005, a group of students from the Class of 2007 held an informational meeting for students interested in starting a cooperative residence at the College. For more than a year, the students developed a plan to turn Burnett House into a co-op with core values of communal living, consensus voting, environmental friendliness, and reduced reliance on College services (dining and cleaning). Residential Life was non-committal, but initially supportive of the idea. Students wishing to live in the co-op would lottery into Burnett for the 2005-2006 academic year and attempt a co-op as a trial period, continue the "pilot program" in 2006-2007, then become a College House with a first year dorm affiliation in 2007-2008.
However, by May of 2005, the plan showed signs of failing. One major concern for the administration was the College's ban on "theme housing," as per the 1997 interim report that also abolished fraternities, as they questioned whether a co-op would be considered theme housing. Further, because the group proposed communal meals four times a week that would need to be cooked in the kitchen of Ladd House, the College raised issues with board transfer from the Dining Service.
One of the student leaders of the movement, Mike Taylor '07, said, "I think the ideals of a co-op house are more in line with what this college claims to be all about than anyone is willing to admit," citing many other colleges with co-op residences. Despite being turned down by the College, interested students began a co-op dinner once a week at Ladd House in the fall of 2005, which continues today.
In response to growing demand for chem-free housing on campus, in the spring of 2007, Residential Life introduced the idea of a "quiet" dorm for first year students if there was sufficient interest. Pacelli suspected that the quiet dorm would "draw some students away from chem-free housing," the Orient reported. The College eventually designated two floors in Moore Hall as quiet housing that fall. The following year, however, Residential Life eliminated the quiet dorm option and instead introduced two chem-free floors in Coleman Hall with chem-free Hyde Hall.
In the fall of 2009, a group of students made the strongest push yet for gender-neutral housing. The housing lottery information on the College's Web site explained that previous arrangements for had been made for "students who are parents, transgendered students, or students with medical or psychological conditions. Although Residential Life said requests for students of different genders to live together are "generally accepted," some students wanted a more comfortable option, rather than be forced to explain their circumstances or be granted an exception. A gender-blind doubles option was added to the housing lottery just after the turn of the decade in February of 2010.
Off-campus housing faces criticism, October 31, 2003
While the College has relied on off-campus options—by purchasing or leasing buildings in town, and enabling students to live off-campus on their own—to appease shortages and problems with campus housing, students living on their own in off-campus apartments have had their own problems.
An incident at the University of Minnesota when an on-campus student apartment caught fire, raising concerns across college campuses about the condition of student housing and landlords' responsibilities. In October, the Orient talked to a number of students who had issues with their off-campus landlords dealing issues including broken windows, nonfunctioning doors, and detached smoke alarms. Many other students, however, reported no issues with their housing and found their landlords "very helpful."
In the fall semester of 2007, some town citizens began to take issue with certain off-campus student residences. A legal dispute was raised by four neighbors when 11 students tried to move into a house at 17 Cleaveland St., claiming the students were violating town ordinances. The Orient reported that the neighbors argued that the owners of the "historic" house, two Bowdoin alumni brothers, were turning the house into a boarding house, prohibited by law in Brunswick. However, the Brunswick Codes Enforcement Officer stated that the property was a legal "two-unit dwelling," not an illegal "boarding house," which usually only allows residents access to one room and often provides meals. At the Brunswick Zoning Board of Appeals meeting in June, a few Bowdoin professors spoke in favor of the neighbors, suggesting that allowing students to live in historic houses disrupts neighborhoods and the condition of housing. Although the Board denied the neighbors' appeal, College officials began meeting with off-campus students voluntarily to discuss the responsibilities of living off-campus.
In December of 2007, a town council meeting held a discussion on the proposed Zoning Ordinance 166, which proposed that no more than two people "who are not part of a household unit" could live together, distinguishing household units "from a housemate or roommate situation," the Orient reported. Following the legal issues raised by neighbors of the 17 Cleaveland St. house, the ordinance essentially sought to restrict groups of unrelated individuals—particularly Bowdoin College students—from renting housing and potentially disrupting neighbors.
Multiple Brunswick residents suggested that landlords were renting housing out to students for profit, "which threatens the integrity of our neighborhoods," one resident argued. One Bowdoin professor claimed that allowing students to live off campus was "destabilizing neighborhoods, lowering property values, and causing undue friction." Those defending off-campus housing for students claimed they were not landlords seeking to gain profits and that they were responsible in who they rented their properties to. The Town Council voted unanimously to pass the ordinance to the planning and zoning boards of Brunswick for re-evaluation, but the ordinance did not pass.