“So are there fraternities at Bowdoin?” Get ready—people are going to ask you this question over and over in the next four years, and probably long after. There is no Greek life at Bowdoin, and the student handbook explicitly prohibits fraternities and sororities. Bowdoin phased out its co-ed fraternities in the 1990’s and the College Houses (or, as they’re more commonly called: social houses) were instituted to replace the Greek system.
There are eight social houses on campus, primarily inhabited by sophomores. Each house is affiliated with a first year brick: Ladd to Osher, Baxter to West, Reed to Moore, Macmillan (“Mac”) to Coleman, Quinby to Appleton, Helmreich to Maine, Burnett to Hyde, and Winthrop to Howell. Every first year is paired with a “buddy” or two from his or her affiliated social house. The houses take varied approaches to the buddy system from year to year—when I was a first year, my roommate and I had one buddy; when I lived in Ladd last year, every first year was buddies with one girl and one boy in the house.
The buddy relationships are what you make of them, and they tend to be the strongest during the first few weeks of school. Don’t be afraid to ask your buddy to a meal; it’s a great way to connect with people you wouldn’t otherwise get to know. And if you’re not a huge fan of your buddy, don’t worry about it—some people just don’t click. A lot of first years and social house residents will view the dynamic between first year bricks and the houses as one fueled exclusively by alcohol. Without a doubt, beer and a few boxes of Franzia will be present at many College House functions. Affiliates are invited over early when College Houses throw parties, and houses will occasionally host pre-games with a keg or a few thirties. But the social houses do not exist solely to give first years alcohol.
When I lived in Ladd last year, there were a few incidents when first years indicated that they believed our purpose was only to get them drunk—one night, the house was very casually hanging out, and a handful of affiliates came over and blatantly asked for alcohol. It was really weird and uncomfortable— and we didn’t have any to give them.
That being said, social house residents really do want you to feel comfortable coming over, watching TV, playing video games, doing homework, or asking for advice.
College House residents are on campus now for their own orientation, a lot of which involves getting to know their affiliates. I should note that even though Orientation is a dry week for everyone, in the past the alcohol prohibition has been, in practice, less strict for sophomores, juniors and seniors on campus. For me, College House orientation was easily one of the best weeks I’ve had at Bowdoin.
Orientation is a bizarre time for first years—being herded to various activities feels like day camp, and you’re probably hearing from friends at other colleges who are getting drunk at frat parties every night. I’ve been there. Last year, in reaction to the College’s expansive definition of hazing, the Orient’s editorial board likened Orientation to hazing: first years are singled out based on age and forced to participate in activities against their will.
Obviously, Orientation is not hazing, but it isn’t a particularly fond memory for most students, either. Rules apply during this week and are more strictly enforced. First years have been kicked out during orientation, so being a new to campus doesn’t necessarily give you a free pass to be stupid.
It will be over soon, though, and you’ll be starting classes, making friends, joining clubs, partying, and stressing over homework before you know it. Try to live in the moment this week and actually experience Orientation—because when it’s over, you’ll know just how good you have it.
Perspectives: Garrett Casey ’15 (Reed House 2012–2013)
My relationship with the College House system began—as I imagine it does for most first years—with pilgrimages to whichever house happened to be hosting a campus-wide party. But once the awkwardness of the first few weeks (“What dorm do you live in?” “Where are you from?” “Which pre- o were you on?”) had faded, I no longer felt the need to take drunken refuge in the anonymous crowds of campus-wides. I preferred smaller, less rowdy evenings, and found them at my affiliate house, Reed.
Eventually I realized that the distinction between sophomore and freshman did not prevent me from befriending house residents, and by the time the year ended, many Reed residents were friends of mine—people I met for breakfast nearly every day. Looking back, I wish I had acted less sheepishly at the beginning of the year. Reed House had welcomed me from the start; I was just too shy to take advantage.
Perspectives: Kate Witteman ’15 (Baxter House 2012–2013)
My new classmates and I could hardly contain our excitement for the first campus-wide party of the year last August. We had been through a “dry” orientation week and were ready to finally see what Bowdoin had to offer in terms of the fabled college party.
Theme of the campus-wide event: Happy New Year. Location: Baxter House. Attire: “Happy New Year” crowns and hats. Being affiliates of Baxter, my dorm mates and I arrived early and got to spend some time with our Baxter buddies before the event opened up to the whole campus. A great majority of the Class of 2015 showed up. There was a ton of dancing downstairs, mingling upstairs, but most importantly, and palpably, an overriding sense of excitement for the beginning of a new year at Bowdoin. It was clear to me that the upperclassmen hosting and attending the party were truly celebrating the fact that they all found themselves back in Brunswick for another school year at a place they loved.