Next fall will mark the start of a two-year trial program that will re-imagine first-year-College House affiliation. Each house will be affiliated with four or five floors from different bricks. Howell will remain a chem-free College House and will be affiliated with floating chem-free floors.
The working proposal reflects input from all corners of the Bowdoin community; that it was so thoughtfully shaped by those who will experience it inspires confidence, and its recommendations have the potential to significantly improve campus culture. The plan seeks to bridge what has become a palpable social divide between students who choose to live chem-free and those who do not, an unfortunate reality of student life that deserves thoughtful redress.
In the past, chem-free housing options have accommodated twice as many international students, students of color and students from Maine than non-chem-free dorms. So much of our experience at the College is shaped by who we live with, and the new model would increase diversity and enrich the first year experience.
But spreading chem-free floors throughout the first year bricks presents a serious logistical challenge to the 13-year-old College House system. Floating floor affiliation is the first step toward alleviating the alienation felt by some chem-free students, but it will also fundamentally change the relationship between first years and the College Houses.
Some things will inevitably be lost. It will be difficult to replicate the experience of the Inter-House Olympics or the excitement of heading over early to campus-wides with new friends from your dorm. That your friends upstairs will not know the same cast of older students because they are affiliated with a different house will eliminate some common ground in the awkward early weeks of freshman year. But if the new system works, it will give students more opportunities to connect with classmates who they may not otherwise meet in their first year.
The physical reorganization will have to be accompanied by a real, campus-wide effort to incorporate the cultural changes recommended in the new policy. “Chem-free” has assumed connotations far broader than abstinence from substance use; changing the nomenclature will be no small task, and will require a concerted effort from students and staff. The task of coordinating chem-free events should be more equally shared between the houses. Howell will continue to be the designated chem-free College House, but the other houses should make good on their promise to host chem-free events. If creating a more inclusive and cohesive social life at Bowdoin is the goal of this project, all students should share and interact in all spaces.
The process of re-evaluating the chem-free system began last year, and has since driven an important debate that is sure to continue as the plan is implemented in the next two years. The broad range of opinions expressed on the subject reflect the diversity of student experiences on this campus—this diversity enriches Bowdoin even as it makes finding a solution to this issue all the more elusive.