Beginning this year, the Office of Residential Life has instituted a new set of rules for blocking into College Houses in an attempt to make the Houses a more attractive option for juniors and seniors. Blocks that are half upperclassmen are now allowed to include up to six, and blocks comprised entirely of upperclassmen can include up to eight members.
Director of ResLife Mary Pat McMahon says the change was made to help College Houses reach a broader audience. Houses are, according to McMahon, intended to serve as resources for the entire campus, and including more juniors and seniors in Houses may help to achieve that end.
In the 2011-2012 academic year, Helmreich House had a number of upperclassmen residents along with the typical sophomore population. Initially, some sophomore residents of the house were unsure what to expect with upperclassmen being included in the house.
“We were very skeptical going in,” said Emily Carr ’14. “We didn’t know the upperclassmen; we didn’t know why they wanted to live in the College House. We were a little bit intimidated by the idea of living with seniors and we didn’t know what their end goal was.”
However, despite their initial misgivings, residents believe the house ended up being very successful. Laurel Varnell ’14 said the situation in Helmreich could not have gone any better, and Carr and Katie Ross ’14 agreed.
“It was really nice because the upperclassmen that lived in the house were really invested in making it a positive experience and they came in with a lot,” said Ross. “They really wanted to make friends with the sophomores.”
The impact that upperclassmen in Houses might have on first-year affiliates remains unclear.
Nina Underman ’15, a first-year Helmreich affiliate in the 2011-2012 year, said she felt slightly intimidated by the presence of seniors in the house. She also felt that she was less able to connect with students that were going to be a part of her Bowdoin experience for such a relatively short time.
“Knowing that they were seniors, I just connected less with them. I knew that they were graduating in a year,” said Underman. “There was just no sense of building a long lasting friendship because they were going their own way.”
Many events planned by Helmreich that year were also geared towards upperclassmen that had been affiliated with the House as first years.
“Something that we did is we had a lot more alumni gatherings and upperclassmen parties,” said Ross. “We planned them on nights when there were other College House events going on hoping that the [first years] wouldn’t come.”
Ladd House currently has four junior residents, and the House’s affiliates expressed general indifference to their presence in the house.
“They ignore the first years for the most part, and we reciprocate,” said Ladd affiliate Lily Woodward ’16.
Nevertheless, first years’ relationships with College House’s often vary widely.
“In any house you are going to have people who are more and less engaged with affiliates and I don’t think that was any different because we had upperclassmen,” said Varnell. “In every house there’s a mixed bag of people who have good and bad experiences with being an affiliate.”
McMahon and the ResLife office do not believe that the inclusion of greater numbers of upperclassmen comes at a cost to first year affiliates.
“When we select people for the college houses we select people who are excited about building communities across campus,” said Assistant Director of Residential Life Madelaine Eulich. “Ideally the upperclassmen we select are just as excited to help make that transition for first years as a sophomore would be.”
Varnell, Carr, and Ross emphasized the importance of having not just any upperclassmen, but the right upperclassmen. All three said they felt the juniors and seniors they lived with in Helmreich had made a concerted effort to get to know and interact with the sophomores living in the house, despite the fact that they could easily have isolated themselves.
Having more upperclassmen in houses does create an environment where more classes of Bowdoin students have the chance to interact with one another than in the past.
“I think when we had events that were not just sophomores but juniors and seniors as well, it made it more inviting for the [first years] because it gave them a way to get to know all four years of the Bowdoin community,” said Carr.
Donald Chute ’15, a junior currently living in Ladd, said that despite not knowing any of the sophomores living in Ladd before this year, he and the other juniors living in the house have managed to become good friends with them.
Connor Quinn ’15, another junior in Ladd, said that he definitely sees more upperclassmen at Ladd with the group of juniors living there.
“I feel like upperclassmen feel more comfortable coming to the houses when you have friends who live there,” said Quinn. “You don’t feel like the awkward upperclassman who doesn’t really fit in.”
Chute and Quinn also questioned why the College Houses have always been attributed to sophomores only.
“I think we’ve started the discussion as to why [living in houses] has always been reserved for sophomores,” said Quinn. “I think that we’re breaking a stigma for upperclassmen living in a house.”