A begrudging ode to my Chamberlain double
May 12, 2022
The College Houses were what drew me to Bowdoin. Growing up in Brunswick—and later supported by a tour I took—the College Houses were, in my eyes, Bowdoin’s social life. As a first-year, I have experienced nightlife, a cappella, jazz, capture-the-flag and poetry through the College Houses, all of which have lived up to my expectations of what these houses provide. The College House experience fosters community more effectively than traditional dorms. The College’s description of this experience emphasizes that you will become a “member of your house community” and enjoy its benefits “long after you graduate.” The College Houses are undoubtedly generational institutions of social life on campus. As Ladd House transitions into space for student resources such as SWAG and THRIVE, only 209 students will have the opportunity to live in a College House this upcoming academic year. The College’s website emphasizes that the houses are “a cornerstone of the Bowdoin residential experience.” While it may be a cornerstone experience for some, it will not be for me.
Of the 517 enrolled students in the class of 2025, 325—over 62 percent—desired to participate in the fabled College House experience. In the words of Celeste Hynes, this year, there were “significantly more applicants than spaces available.” On March 9, alongside 115 of my peers, I received an unexpected rejection email that left me confused, shocked and crushed. While my friends enthusiastically shared house assignments with each other, my stomach sank. At that moment, I felt shame and inadequacy for the first time at Bowdoin. A singular email left 22.5 percent of the first-year student body unexpectedly stranded to brave the housing lottery.
The College Houses are a quintessential component of Bowdoin residential life and undeniably a draw to prospective students, offering a unique take on Greek life without the hazing and douchiness. They are featured across Res Life’s website and on Bowdoin’s home page, demonstrating their prominence within the Bowdoin experience. The College Houses have been institutionally inseparable from the College since their inception in 1999, becoming as crucial to the student experience as Ivies or the “Bowdoin Hello.” My rejection felt like a slap in the face. A core tenet of Bowdoin’s residential experience—an important reason for my choosing the College—is something that I, alongside a quarter of my class, will never get to experience.
Attempting to swim ashore, we were swept under by the ocean that is the housing lottery. Unfortunately, for many of us, our luck had run out far before we had even stepped foot into the water. In the fall semester of 2022, there will be more students on campus than ever before. The class of 2022.5 will remain on campus for their final semester, many juniors will likely be going abroad in the spring rather than the fall and Bowdoin’s student body will continue its current trend of growth. With this and the loss of housing (sophomore housing, to be specific), the lottery’s options were quite slim for those of us picking in the third round.
I didn’t know much about the housing lottery, but I had been told one thing: avoid Chamberlain Hall at all costs. A friend who had been in a similar situation in their sophomore year described to me in detail how their Chamberlain experience had “sucked their soul out.” Upperclassmen grimaced with shock, sympathizing with my potential living situation. Nevertheless, when my pick came along—1,928th overall—my only option was a Chamberlain double.
The housing website writes that “sometime around sophomore year: you’ll say home, and realize that you mean here.” My struggle against the housing lottery’s waves was futile, and now all I can do is float blissfully. Perhaps this shifting of the tides will lead me to where I find purpose, love, passion and most importantly, home. I’ll unapologetically fill my room with espresso, records, movie posters, polaroid photos and friends—the items, memories and people that I love in peaceful protest of my preconceived notions. For all of us who have been disappointed by the College House system or the housing lottery, I trust that we will fulfill the College’s prediction. Although I will not be living in a College House next year, I will make this beautiful place, the fourth floor of Chamberlain Hall, my home.
Ben Israel is a member of the Class of 2025.
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Nicely written — and a telling example of how important it can be for a college to uphold funding its core traditions, especially while pouring millions into new buildings.