Guest Editorial

Veronica Devore

The recent LUCC misconduct regarding the SMEE House is only the most recent example of the numerous inadequacies in the university’s small housing system.
For one thing, current theme house policy undermines the possibility of theme continuity. The selection process, as we have recently seen, is fragile and contingent on the Theme House Selection Board’s interpretation of the vague requirement for a program to “enhance and augment the liberal arts ideal.”
Not all theme houses should endure through several years, of course. This is partly because they are dependent on the involvement of specific students, and partly because a change in theme house diversity from year to year keeps the campus community lively and dynamic.
Even so, Lawrence would do well to establish a number of long-term theme houses.
Many other colleges and universities have permanent houses with a theme that directly bolsters the academic program. A number of these are language houses, which provide a permanent place for students to engage in language-related activities and experience linguistic immersion.
Given that Lawrence does not allow students to live off campus, it would be a responsible thing for LUCC to look into providing stable alternatives to living in our mangy residence halls, especially if it strengthens our language programs by giving language assistants more than the weekly use of a dining room to conduct activities.
Many schools also have looser restrictions on what themes are allowed. Lawrence used to have a “Kids at Heart” house, for example, which perhaps did not further the Mission and Purposes of Lawrence University, but was still a colorful input on campus life.
Under the current policy, it’s very difficult to introduce such a theme – which adds to campus life but ultimately provides no concrete contribution to the liberal arts – without being able to BS one’s way through the selection process. (But I’ll leave discussion of the Swing Dance House to another editorialist.)
In addition, some schools allow for more flexibility as to where themes are applied. Reed College, for example, has “Theme Dorms,” wherein one or two floors of a dormitory are allotted to themes such as “Ancient Civilizations,” “Mad Science,” and the whimsical “Never Never Land.”
What’s also great about that and many other colleges’ systems is that anyone is allowed to apply individually to live in a theme area. Lawrence’s process, which requires students to apply as a group, ensures that theme houses are always populated by a small group of friends, usually making the houses somewhat exclusive and leading to less visibility and openness to campus.
And the LUCC policies aren’t the only ones that are falling short of serving the Lawrence community. The formal group housing policy, controlled by the Board of Trustees, has its own problems.
The biggest problem is the way formal groups register members with the Campus Activities Office.
On one hand, there are those groups that have to inflate their membership in order to keep their houses. Beta Theta Pi, for example, introduced the “Friend of Beta” status this year – students who pay no dues and are not members of the fraternity for all practical purposes, but who are registered with the university as being members so that they are eligible to live in the house. The Swing Dancing House is also notorious for this practice.
Students are missing the point. A formal group house is meant to be a place where a group can build a community of members and focus on furthering its mission. And yet several groups have brought in people who “just live there” so the group won’t be moved to a smaller facility.
On the other hand, there are the groups that have to exclude members in order to pursue the purpose of their house. The Greenfire house will implement a cooperative dining program next year as a way to further their support of local, organic food producers.
But FGH policy requires a group receiving board transfer to feed every one of its members. With 89 on the Greenfire roster, that’s a daunting number to feed in a small house kitchen.
This policy was meant to deal with fraternities, which are social organizations who use communal dining as a way to bolster community, and with the McCarthy Co-op, which is a communal living organization mostly built around its meal plan.
Greenfire is neither of these. It is a sociopolitical organization whose new meal plan will be one of its many environmental programs. There is no sense in forcing the entire group together socially when it contradicts the group’s purpose.
As a result of the policy, Greenfire may have to ask many members to formally dissociate from the group so that their co-op plan can work.
I say formally because there is nothing to stop those individuals from continuing their involvement with the group – it’s just a matter of what’s on paper.
But isn’t it more than a little counterintuitive that a group should have to strip its roster in order to carry out its activities?
I suppose one thing this means is that there needs to be more flexibility in the dining options for groups living in university housing. But the important thing is, Greenfire shouldn’t really be able to deflate their membership like this, just like the Betas and the Swing House shouldn’t be able to inflate their membership. The members on paper should be the members in real life, no more, no less.
I call on LUCC to fulfill its obligations to oversee the actions of its boards and committees; I call on LUCC to reform theme housing legislation; I call on LUCC to hold groups accountable for their rosters; and I call on the Board of Trustees to revise the formal group housing policy to address the inadequacies of FGH board transfer.