College Houses were once centers of social life on campus. But due to COVID-19, they have been forced to reimagine their position. This year, they have become smaller living environments for “pods” of as few as 10 people, forgoing their typical role in campus-wide programming and community building.
In a Zoom interview with the Orient, Associate Director of Residential Education and Residential Life Stephanie Patterson, who oversees the College House system, spoke of what a return to normalcy may look like.
“What we are able to do and what the Houses look like largely will depend on where we’re at with campus safety and where we are at with social distancing guidelines,” Patterson said. “My hope is that we are able to return back to having programming like we used to, but the real answer is I really won’t know for certain until we have a better picture of what the fall is going to look like.”
This year’s unprecedented structure brought with it a number of changes to the traditional College House system. For one, College House members have only lived in their residence for the second half of the year. In the fall, College Houses functioned as regular dorms for first-year students, while current House residents completed their orientation virtually and began building a remote House community.
“Provided that we are able to gather, I am very excited to have House orientation and House officer training in person [next year],” Patterson said. “The hardest part of all of this has been the necessity of being on Zoom and not being able to have more than a certain amount of people together in one space. I think I get a lot of energy and there’s a lot of excitement in August when all the house members are back early.”
Even though the entire campus is eager to get the College back to “normal,” Patterson noted some changes in the campus culture that may make the transition difficult.
“One of the things that I have thought about over the last couple of weeks is that going into next year, our seniors are going to be the only class that has seen a completely normal year at Bowdoin,” she said. “So I think College Houses are going to shift in the sense that there’s going to be some building up that needs to happen to get us back to the place that we used to be in terms of programming [and] in terms of getting people back into the spaces.”
Although current first-year students have not witnessed the role that College Houses normally play on campus, this did not deter many from applying to live in them. Patterson noted that the number of applicants this year is on par with previous years.
Emi Schneider ’24 is one of the many students who applied to a College House for next fall.
“I applied since it was hard to get involved on campus this year because of COVID[-19]. I feel like, this way, I will be able to be more involved with the Bowdoin community, get to meet new people that I might not have met otherwise and be able to help plan fun events to bring the community together,” Schneider said in an interview with the Orient.
Just as in any year, though, applying to a College House isn’t the only option for sophomore housing, and many current first years have their eyes on other potential arrangements.
Rachel Klein ’24 opted not to apply for a College House and instead plans on rooming with a few friends she made while on campus.
“It just wasn’t for me,” Klein said in an interview with the Orient. “I would prefer to be with a smaller group of friends that I already know.”
Patterson explained that, because first years have yet to experience the College House system, greater responsibility will be placed on current House members who return to the system next year. While all rising sophomores, juniors and seniors have technically always been allowed to apply to live in College Houses, a particular effort is being made this year to disrupt the all-sophomore norm and invite current residents to apply to live in their House again as juniors.
“I think it is going to be a lot of support coming from our current House members next year, and maybe even helping with ideas in terms of programming and really helping them understand the community that they work to build in the Houses and be able to replicate that, helping them be able to figure that out for themselves,” Patterson said.
Looking forward to next year, Patterson reflected on what she missed during the pandemic and what she’s excited to hopefully return to.
“[I miss] even the simple things, [like when] people have people over to bake cookies,” she said. “It’s simple, but it’s that sense of community that I think draws a lot of people to Bowdoin, and it’s that sense of community that I think allows people to feel grounded here.”
For next year, Patterson noted that the most important thing will be the attitude that new House members bring to their positions.
“I know that a lot of [next year] is going to be learning and figuring out what [College Houses are] supposed to look like and what it is that they’re supposed to do … I hope that [House members] bring the energy, I hope that they bring the excitement and I hope that the rest of campus is ready to go back to collaborating with College Houses to host programming,” she said.