For most students at the College, course registration is an exciting time to consider the future. For first years, with the fateful first semester almost under their belts, spring course registration is a subtle affirmation that, yes, you can make it here. In fact, Bowdoin even wants you back for another semester! Sophomores—those confident, savvy Polar Bears—may not know their major quite yet, but they know what they like and definitely know what annoying professors to avoid. And juniors, well, they could care less. Enjoy camping in Australia next spring!
For seniors, however, spring course registration is a grim reminder of reality. Bowdoin cannot go on forever— nor, frankly, would I really want it to at the hefty price of $56,128 per year.
I understand that senior year is necessarily a transitional year because planning for the future takes time. Right now, I sadly have one foot in Bowdoin and one foot in my as-yet-undefined future. But why do I get the feeling that my time as a Polar Bear began to end as early as sophomore year?
The main issue lies with the College House system, which is generally what Bowdoin considers its main—read, appropriate—venue for social life on campus. But who goes to these parties? Let me oversimplify the system to make a point: Residential Life chooses sophomores to live in College Houses, these sophomores host parties for first years, and giddy first years are served alcohol by the unfortunate lone junior or senior who has been wrangled into serving as the Alcohol Host. So, what about these parties would you call “campus-wide”?
Obviously, campus-wide parties are advertised as such and any card-carrying Polar Bear is welcome to join the fray. Yet the College House culture of only catering to first years and sophomores exists for a reason. Upperclassmen—what I define as juniors and seniors—like to hang out with their friends, who are generally fellow older students.
Now, I can’t speak for everyone in the Class of 2013, but I feel confident that I’m not alone when I say I don’t really want to party much with first years—no offense, Class of 2016.
While the College may not want to exclude anyone from campus-wide parties, I think that a little differentiation between the classes is both natural and appropriate. If first years and sophomores have their own houses and their own parties—which is a system that I think works relatively well for the more youthful target audience—why couldn’t we expand the idea for juniors and seniors? Why isn’t there an upperclassmen-only College House?
Upperclassmen-only College Houses (why stop at one?) would be a concrete step toward creating an on-campus social life for juniors and seniors. These houses could work in the same way the College Houses do, but instead host events for seniors and juniors. But, you ask, juniors and seniors aren’t prohibited from living in College Houses, so why can’t they just form a group, apply to a house, and live there? They can, and it has been done already with some degree of success (see Helmreich House, 2011).
However, there remains a stigma that goes along with living in a College House after sophomore year. Quite frankly, it’s just “weird” for an upperclassman to live in a place that Bowdoin campus culture has clearly defined as reserved for first years and sophomores. Yet by designating a College House as reserved for upperclassmen (and allowing that house to limit its events to older students), the College would finally acknowledge a place for upperclassmen on campus.
The culture of the College House system as it currently exists caters to first years, and leaves upperclassmen to fend for themselves. This is not fair, and should be changed. Campus-wides clearly don’t work; instead, the College should give upperclassmen their own space on campus and the right to host only other upperclassmen at their parties. Exclusion need not be a dirty word, but instead a means to fostering stronger community among juniors and seniors.
One argument against this proposal may be that seniors already have their own spaces on campus. Remember that enormous tower in the center of campus? Coles Tower is arguably the epicenter of upperclassmen life on campus, but not in a way that fosters strong community. You don’t apply to live in the tower because you’re excited to become friends with all 200 of your neighbors; seniors live in the tower because wearing slippers to every meal is magnificent. And having a single is nice, too.
The tower was originally known as the Senior Center, designed to “emphasize college and class rather than fraternity,” as President Sills said in 1964. In place of Greek life, the administration encouraged seniors to live, eat, attend special programs, and suffer through lectures together. The Senior Center promoted both academic and social cohesion among upperclassmen, which is something I feel has been missing.
I realize some great upperclassmen-only activities, like Senior Night, exist, but I respectfully contend that subsidized blueberry beers are insufficient, albeit delicious. Upperclassmen need their own social space on campus. Though juniors may be busy booking some party hostel in Amsterdam and seniors already have one foot outside the bubble thanks to the relentless emails of Career Planning, we are still Polar Bears. I support Senior Nights and Tuesdays at Joshua’s and hell, I even support Crack House; however, relegating upperclassmen to these off-campus venues is unfair.
I’ll admit, an upperclassmen-only College House is a radical idea, and Residential Life would undoubtedly object to such dangerous exclusivity. (On a related note, sarcasm is hard to write into an essay.) In all seriousness, though, I believe upperclassmen deserve a space on campus to call their own. If not a College House, perhaps start smaller with a senior lounge in Smith Union, outside of the pub.
As campus culture currently dictates, sophomores have their houses and Bowdoin’s blessing to host campus-wide parties that really only attract—and rightfully so—the younger half of the College. Upperclassmen? Well, at least Safe Ride goes all the way to Joshua’s.
The takeaway message for upperclassmen is that there is not an adequate on-campus venue for us on the weekends. Sure, you can have a nice cocktail with friends or attempt a good party in the tower, or even embark on the long walk to Crack House. But the current social culture at Bowdoin is that seniors (and those lucky 21-plus juniors) have little outlet other than to take the party off-campus. For Joshua’s, that’s great. For Bowdoin, I’m really not so sure.