In 1997, a commission composed of trustees, faculty and students submitted a report tracing the failings of Bowdoin's fraternity system and proposed an alternative housing plan: the College House System. The commission was optimistic that the system would cultivate a deeper sense of community on campus, and the proposed plan was quite thorough and introspective. A few of the guidelines were tongue-in-cheek. For example, did the commission really believe that alcohol purchased from dues would only be served to students of age? One of the articulated ambitions of the new system, though, seemed quite sincere. This was the commission's hope that "each of these Houses will develop a distinctive tradition and identity connecting students across class years and to the College."
The predominance of sophomores in fraternities was problematic in 1997, and it is problematic in social houses today. As each cohort of residents spends only a single year in a house, new traditions are difficult to implement, maintain and nurture. There is no sense of continuity. Ask any student on campus of he favorite tradition, and he will invariably announce that it is Ivies Week. That a week of excessive drinking is memorable is not surprising. What is depressing, though, is that Ivies is little more than a week of excessive drinking. The social houses have failed to cement any lasting traditions not centered around imbibing, which is lamentable given the College's rich history and creative students. The commission's hope remains unrealized.
Residential Life's experiment of encouraging upperclassmen to return to their old houses has by most accounts failed. Perhaps the social house experience that rising sophomores yearn for is incompatible with the expectations of rising seniors. Still, we believe that the College House System, if critically analyzed by students and attended to with a renewed sense of responsibility from the administration, can be strengthened. The administration should convene a new commission which would assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, revisit the findings of the 1997 commission, and implement a plan to address shortcomings. The administration is equipped to focus on the challenge of establishing continuity. Students, in turn, should work to identify the traditions that will sustain the system for years to come.
Traditions can be found, and they can be made. In fact, decades of tradition sit right under our noses in the many fraternities that populated our campus. Why not reach out to alumni and see which customs could be adopted by social houses? We can also look to other institutions with cherished traditions and adopt variations that fit Bowdoin. Students can realize the potential of the system and establish a standard for what the houses can accomplish so that future residents will be eager to carry the torch.
We are grateful to those individuals who undertook the difficult task of instituting the College House System. Despite our criticisms, the social houses are largely a positive force on campus. They are inclusive. They are fun to live in with friends. They provide first years with a place to drink in an environment that is safer than their dorm rooms. And to benefit from it all you didn't even have to eat a goldfish or be dragged by your feet on a beer-covered basement floor as a human squeegee. Yes, they do that at Cornell.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which comprises Nick Daniels, Piper Grosswendt, Linda Kinstler and Seth Walder.