House System: Divided but United

by Nikhita Hingorani | 1/10/18 2:05am

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by Naomi Lam / The Dartmouth Staff

The house system brings about familiarity and comfort to some, apprehension and novelty to others. Nonetheless, since the fall of 2016, it has become a key part of the Dartmouth experience. On its base level, the house system is a division of students across six houses: Allen, East Wheelock, North Park, School, South and West. Upon closer inspection, however, the house system is far from merely a division. Rather, its ability to create a sense of community among undergraduate students, graduate students and professors alike is a creation of unity through the process of division.

A prime component of the Moving Dartmouth Forward initiative, the house system had been in the works for a while before its initiation, according to South House professor Kathryn Lively. Although the basic idea of a house community is shared among many schools in the Northeast, it was designed and implemented here on campus to perfectly fit the needs of Dartmouth.

“Dartmouth had been thinking about this for many, many years prior to it actually happening,” Lively said. “At various points, delegations of faculty members and people from the Office of Residential Life would go to colleges and universities across the country that already had housing systems. They went to Harvard [University], Yale [University], Middlebury [College] — they would go to all the places and look for what worked, what didn’t work, how can we take the best practices of these different organizations and make them work for Dartmouth, given our unique characteristics.”

Lively believes that the creation of the house system was aimed towards students who wanted to continue living in on-campus housing throughout their time at Dartmouth, especially for those who would utilize their off term and then come back to campus not sure where or with whom they would live.

“Dartmouth has always had divisions in terms of housing, through the Living Learning Communities, through [housing in town] and through Greek organizations. People chose to live with other people on the basis of their interests, commonalities and just a variety of characteristics. But for the students who chose to live in the residence halls ... they would be moved all over the place, which would disrupt all sorts of relationships. One of the purposes [of the house communities] was simply the idea that students would always know ... where they are likely to return, and depending on their participation in housing events, they would at least have a passing familiarity of the people that they are living with.”

Another division on campus even beyond the undergraduate student population is one between undergraduate and graduate students. Undergraduates may use some graduate students’ facilities, share some professors and even take classes in their departments, but their interactions with the graduate students themselves are often few and far between.

However, due to the recent initiation of resident fellows, a group of graduate students selected to live within the house communities and serve as mentors, those interactions are becoming more common. Resident fellows often offer tutoring sessions or hold brunches to get to know their residents on a more intimate level and ultimately ease the division between the two student bodies.

“We’re finding that many undergraduates, specifically those who are interested in pursuing graduate research, now have the ability to interact with graduate students in a way that they never had before,” Lively said.

Jae Oh ’21 believes that the resident fellows program has been a great asset to his first-year experience at Dartmouth.

“I know that I want to pursue medicine, and both the older undergraduates and graduate students I’ve met through my house have been extremely helpful in helping me plan how I’m going to achieve that goal,” Oh said. “They have advised me on what classes I should take, how I can excel in those specific classes and just various ways I can ensure that I will have a successful future as a physician.”

The housing system has been intergral in the transition to Dartmouth specifically for the ’20s and ’21s, because, in terms of housing, it has been all that most of these students know. The First-Year Residential Experience, which is designed to be a community in which first-years can get to know their fellow first-year floormates in a more intimate manner, attempts to ease the college acclimation process. In addition, there are various Living Learning Communities that were created with first-year membership in mind that many students take advantage of in order to foster a community with a particular academic affinity. Though these programs may seem to add to the divide between first-years and the rest of the classes, they often make first-year feel more comfortable and willing to make relationships not only among themselves but also with many other people on campus.

Kos Twum-Antwi ’21, a member of the Thought Project Living Learning Community, has nothing but positive reviews about her involvement.

“My floor has really great people in it, and we bond very well,” she said. “So many freshmen applied to the Thought Project this year that it’s become an entirely freshmen floor. I don’t know if it’s due to our discussions, where we have to get deep and make an effort to listen to people, but we have all become extremely close with each other.”

She notes that she has been able to build many connections with first-years, upperclassmen and even professors, through her Living Learning Communities association and membership in East Wheelock.

“Many of our discussions are led by faculty on a topic that they feel is important, and we get to create various relationships through this,” Twum-Antwi said. “And as freshmen, we come in not really knowing anything, so we can express and connect in this fact. If we ever need any help, our UGA is a great resource, and she has friends who are other great resources. We get to do the typical freshmen events together — going to frats, running around the bonfire — so it’s been a good experience.”