As first years scrambled to figure out their sophomore year housing plans last week, the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) announced a major change to the College House system. In an effort to entice rising juniors and seniors to apply, ResLife will now allow larger blocks if they include rising upperclassmen.
Walking into a College House filled with sophomores can be intimidating for first years. The residents might only be one year older, but they boast a year of collegiate experience and familiarity with the norms of campus social life. Over time, that divide can be easily bridged, but the wider gap between first year affiliates and upperclassmen residents has—in past years—proven too vast. As first years, members of the Class of 2015 who were affiliated with the senior-heavy 2011-2012 Helmreich House remember feeling unwelcome and uncomfortable at House events. ResLife maintains that this House was an example of what a College House should be. Having upperclassmen residents may have been a positive experience for House members, but any benefit seems to have come at the expense of those students who we think depend most on the College House system—first years.
Approximately half of each sophomore class lives in a College House. This gives these students an opportunity to live in a house full of peers and gives the year a sense of distinction that does not exist at other colleges. Just on the cusp of becoming upperclassmen, sophomores who live in College Houses are put in leadership positions and asked to organize events for the whole community. Even for sophomores who live elsewhere, the Houses provide a fundamental space for programming and socializing. Incorporating juniors and seniors into this setting may be a valuable way to connect class years, but we feel that this compromises the quintessential sophomore and first-year experiences that currently exist.
Under the current sophomore-dominated College House system, students returning to campus their junior year become part of a decidedly different social scene, which develops at Harpswell, in off-campus housing and in Coles Tower. Alumni parties and campus-wides still provide valuable opportunities for inter-grade mingling, but the Houses primarily serve to facilitate social events for a younger crowd. We don’t think this is bad: upperclassmen no longer need these central social spaces the way underclassmen do.
Having a cohesive social scene is certainly a good idea in theory, but the reality is that the presence of juniors and seniors in the Houses threatens to deter underclassmen from an otherwise welcoming and inclusive place.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Erica Berry, Nora Biette-Timmons, Garrett Casey, Ron Cervantes, Marisa McGarry, Sam Miller and Kate Witteman.