On Wednesday, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster announced that the current system of affiliation between first-year bricks and College Houses will come to an end next fall, when each College House will instead be affiliated with floors from various first year bricks.
The changes to first year housing for this academic year will be modest. In light of lower than usual demand, chem-free first years now live in Winthrop Hall, which is bigger than Hyde Hall. Winthrop Hall is now affiliated with Howell House, which is also chem-free. Hyde Hall’s affiliation has switched to Burnett House.
The significant changes will take effect next fall, when floating chem-free floors will be dispersed throughout the first year bricks, and the new affiliation model takes effect. The overhaul was shaped by last spring’s extensive debates between students, faculty and administrators.
In Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) meetings last year, students raised concerns that “it would be unfair if Howell had a much more challenging affiliation than the other houses,” said Director of Residential Life Mary Pat McMahon.
The new model will make affiliation equally challenging for every College House, and will be reevaluated at the end of a two-year trial phase. The full implementation has been postponed until next year to give Residential Life, the Dean’s Office and the College Houses more time to prepare for the shift.
“The idea people got excited about was that we’ve always had this connection of one brick to one house, but what if we didn’t have that?” said Foster.
The administration hopes that floating affiliation will allow first years to form more connections with classmates outside their bricks.
Revisions in chem-free living arrangements have been percolating for months. The current plans reflect the recommendations of the Chem-Free Housing Review Committee (CFHRC), as well as alterations made in several open forums, debate in BSG, and objections raised by a group of concerned Howell House residents who circulated a petition against the CFHRC’s recommendations.
The constant throughout the discussions was Howell House, which will continue to be a chem-free College House providing chem-free space and programming for all students.
The CFHRC sought to correct the ways the current chem-free system divides the student body by attaching labels and assumptions of otherness to students whose decisions to live chem-free are in reality informed by very diverse factors. Foster reported that in the BSG debates, there was concern that simply spreading floating chem-free floors across the bricks would be insufficient to change those perceptions.
The goal of the new system is to enrich the first year experience. According to Foster, chem-free dorms have tended to be almost twice as socioeconomically and racially diverse as other dorms.
Having all chem-free spaces in one building has, in practice, segregated a disproportionate number of international, minority and native Maine students. Foster called the experience “a deprivation for the whole community.”
The proposed changes reflect findings of several surveys and focus groups that examined the first year experience. Many students felt as if their first year experience was crucially shaped by where they lived. McMahon highlighted false presumptions that coalesce in “those formative first weeks of the semester that people don’t have anything in common” with students who live chem-free.
Foster and McMahon both emphasized that the dialogue on chem-free housing will not end here.
“Just because it’s the culture of the campus doesn’t mean it’s what’s best,” said Foster.