Many students are attracted to Vassar for its values and its distinctions that set it apart from other liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. Vassar’s commitment to gender neutral bathrooms and an open curriculum are special qualities of the college that draw students here and to which we are lucky to have access.
However, I think there are some foundations in place on our campus that make it stand out, but not in necessarily good or productive ways. While this might seem like an unpopular opinion, I believe that Vassar should adopt an all-freshman housing policy for the benefit of the campus community as a whole.
My argument stems from not only personal experience, but also through conversations with many other students on campus and a general sense I have gotten from living on campus for a year. I think many students would agree that the feeling of a strong campus community is heavily lacking at Vassar. While this can be attributed to many aspects and issues on our campus, I think one root of the problem is the lack of class unity.
Without strong cohesion and mutual support for each class year starting freshmen year, the school builds on itself with less and less of a tight-knit community. I believe that one way to help build back that energy and cohesion would be to have freshmen live together not all separate, spread out among nine different dorms. Instead of having the “Joss kids” or the “Cushing crew” within the freshman class, we would just be the Class of 2018. And while each class will always break off into groups and cliques, where you live wouldn’t affect who you were most likely going to be friends with.
Of course, many people, including myself, have friends who live in dorms other than their own; however, designating a few dorms to the class as a whole makes it easier to meet the people with whom you will be spending four years of college. Along those lines, there also is something problematic about how Vassar pushes the idea that each house has a theme or a personality. First, how accurate really is this notion of houses with different characters? And if it is correct, should the house you happen to be placed in have more of a “personality” than your class who will graduate with you?
Though houses like Cushing do have a cozier community feel, I argue that most houses don’t have those “personality” quirks that the College claims they do. Further, each student, especially during their freshmen year and transition into college, should be able to have the at-home feel within their dorm. This supportive atmosphere is definitely missing in dorm like Main, for example, and all the other dorms fall between the two extremes of Cushing and Main.
In relation to difference between the houses, it’s no secret that there are some pretty big disparities in the quality of the many dorms on campus. It seems unfair that some freshmen get to live in big singles in the nicer houses, while some sophomores and juniors are in smaller, lower quality rooms and facilities.
Obviously students are spread throughout each house, and the quality of each dorm affects students from each class year, so that is not to say that most or all freshmen have better living situations than upperclassmen. However, I think that students should be able to have the option to move to better quality housing and not have to be stuck with the house where they got randomly placed before they even arrived here.
For example, putting all freshmen in dorms like Raymond, Noyes, and Cushing (not that all of those are necessarily low quality, but other dorms are considered more desirable) would then leave room for upperclassmen to get rooms in dorms like Main and Davison. This way, more students would have the ability to live in the nicer dorms during their time here, instead of staying in the same dorm (i.e. seniors who live in Raymond all four years).
Granted, some dorms have more of a community feel than others do, prompting students to want to stay there for three years. However, not all dorms are equal in that respect, and it shouldn’t be expected that students stay in the same house if they all can’t promise that standard of community.
I want to question why this housing system is even in place when the freshman-only housing model is used and works well for many of our peer institutions (Williams, Amherst, Hamilton and many more) and other colleges around the country.
According to the Vassar website, the residential system “…obliges students to master the art of living cooperatively in a diverse community.” As well, the College claims that “Diversity of perspective is honored as well in the college’s system of shared governance.”
These sentiments don’t make sense to me as a strong argument for mixed-class housing for a few reasons. First, Vassar’s commitment to admitting a diverse freshmen class already gives students a diverse residential experience without the integration of different class years. Within the freshman class, there are already students with such various and differing backgrounds that the reasoning for having sophomores and juniors living among freshmen for variety purposes isn’t convincing.
Additionally, I think that students find more multiplicity of thought and point of view in classes with students of other class years and not simply by living next to them. While freshmen do find friendships with sophomores and juniors who live on their hall or in their dorm, the switch to all-freshman housing would not precipitate the loss of those friendships. On a campus of only 2400 students, freshmen have the opportunity to find those perspectives and relationships with older students whether they live in the same dorm or not. So, this begs the question: why not give freshmen a better chance to find people with whom to connect in their own year first, by creating a living space for freshmen only?
In my personal experience, living next to students of other class years, especially during the beginning of freshman year when making those connections to other students is crucial, has not helped me “master the art of living cooperatively in a diverse community” nor gain a “diversity of perspective” as the College claims it would.
I have instead found myself wishing that I was surrounded by freshmen, to give me a better chance of developing more relationships and a stronger community within the Class of 2018. I wouldn’t want to see the end of fellow groups or a total overhaul of Vassar’s residential system.
If freshmen lived together in the dorms, student fellows would still be on the halls to do their jobs in assisting the transition into college it would just be without the presence of other upperclassmen in the houses. I believe that grouping freshmen together as a class would not only improve the community within each class year, but also in the whole school.
— Emma Rosenthal ’18 is a political science major.