The Lawrence University Community Council [LUCC] will soon vote on a new policy that will bring the theme house application process and the formal group housing application under one system, titled “Lawrence Group Housing.” As our system currently stands, student groups applying for theme houses are awarded a one-year contract and are not required to have a governmental structure, whereas formal group houses are awarded a three-year contract and are required to have a governmental structure and disciplinary system.
The new proposal brings together both application processes under the Housing Selection Committee of LUCC. The new system will award only one-year contracts to student groups applying for the Quad houses and the several other houses that are designated as formal group houses. This piece of legislation has very grave implications for the student organizations currently occupying our designated formal group houses.
One concern that many formal groups have with this policy is that loosely affiliated student organizations without a centralized government or disciplinary body can compete with formal groups for the same houses. Many formal group houses have strict membership obligations and eligibility guidelines to live in their houses. As it stands, the new housing policy does not require student groups to have any standards for what constitutes an eligible resident. Decentralized groups of students who would only be able to apply for a theme house can now compete with LUCC-recognized student organizations with centralized governments and disciplinary bodies for the same houses.
Before, theme housing did not conflict with the interests of formal group housing because the smaller designated theme houses with fewer beds were awarded to decentralized student groups without a goal that was dependent on having a house. These student groups could pick up a house for a year as a nice way to get the communal living experience without having to establish a long-term goal that was related to their acquisition of a house.
However, formal groups applying for larger houses have a mission that is directly related to having a house. Therefore, it makes sense that formal groups with a centralized government and disciplinary system are awarded the larger formal group houses to incorporate as many members as possible. With the new policy, decentralized student groups will be competing for the same houses that many formal groups work much, much harder to maintain.
Residence Life Committee is viewing the formal group houses as a right to be shared equally rather than a privilege to be earned. This contradicts the hard work that formal groups do in maintaining their houses.
Additionally, awarding only one-year contracts makes it difficult for currently established formal groups to focus on long-term goals. Sometimes, formal groups undertake projects that take several years to complete. Without the assurance of a house, student organizations with formal groups cannot plan long-term projects without first being assured they will have a house throughout the project’s duration.
Formal group houses are often occupied by student organizations whose occupancy of that house is essential to the mission of their student organization. The most immediate example is our fraternities. Some may ask, if sororities can exist without houses, why shouldn’t fraternities shouldn’t be able to? Sororities have a centralized recruitment process that has effectively brought in recruits each year. This system is not compatible with fraternities, making the fraternity house the most important recruitment tool a fraternity has.
Without a formal group house, fraternities struggle to acquire new members. This directly impacts the ability of a chapter to succeed in its philanthropic and brotherhood-building mission. For example, Beta Theta Pi has a partnership with Riverview Gardens. Because our philanthropic work involves a great deal of manual labor, the more members we have, the more work we can do to build Riverview’s infrastructure. Additionally, a fraternity needs their own private space to conduct rituals, which are essential to the brotherhood experience that fraternities seek to provide to their members.
Philanthropic and brotherhood goals are not short-term operations. While chapters can simply approach a non-profit and lend a helping hand occasionally, our philanthropic goals often develop over the course of several years. Additionally, the rituals and education that chapter members receive during their time often occur over several years. Without a long-term assurance of a house, these long-term goals are disrupted.
Likewise, groups like Sankofa need a house because their primary missions are to provide safe spaces for minority students on campus. Sankofa’s presence is vital to building a diverse community at Lawrence. If we seek to draw in students of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, houses like Sankofa need to be assured longer contracts.
For prospective students of color having those spaces on the Quad may be the deciding factor between attending Lawrence or not. Not only does the house provide a safe space; it allows for a more centralized community that would otherwise be more dispersed throughout campus. It is vital that a house and Sankofa does not have to compete with decentralized groups of students every single year. They need a longer contract to focus on long-term goals related to their mission that may take more than one year.
Unfortunately, Residence Life Committee is determined to still bring theme and formal group housing under one single process called “Group Housing.” Therefore, some concessions should be made to reconcile the interests of formal groups currently occupying formal group houses and the Residence Life Committee.
First, rather than award all groups one-year contracts, extend the contracts to two years. While three-year contracts are ideal, a two-year contract provides a slight increase in turnover while allowing new groups to develop long-term goals. Additionally, it may actually incentivize student groups to avoid the second year dip in productivity that sometimes occurs with a three-year contract.
Second, decentralized student groups should be required to submit eligibility requirements for potential residents to live in their house and devise some basic governing structure. Currently, members of formal group houses have obligations they must uphold to be allowed to live in a formal group house.
If a decentralized student group is to compete with a well-structured organization for the same resources, that student group must have similar standards of accountability. This means that a decentralized student group couldn’t simply get a dozen or more students to agree to fill their house without assuring that those residents will contribute to the mission of the group, which is one of the greater concerns that many formal groups currently have.
Either way, we cannot avoid the future housing situation that will undoubtedly become more competitive, which is an unfortunate reality for this school’s future. However, the new policy places decentralized groups of students on an equal playing field with established LUCC-recognized organizations that have clear structures, disciplinary systems and house-eligibility requirements. By making some concessions, we can fairly reconcile the interests of formal group houses while making the necessary adjustments to Lawrence’s new housing situation. The system will be not be perfect for everybody, but it certainly will be more fair than the legislation that is currently being debated.