The necessity of small group housing at LU

Mac Watson

As education moves in a more digital direction, the one thing about Lawrence that cannot be replaced is the sense of community and social opportunities facilitated by all 1,600 of us living together. There is no need for all of us to move to Appleton if we are all to be holed up in apartment-style dormitories. What a community like Lawrence offers is constant social interaction with other intellectually curious young adults.
This interaction is especially intense in the groups who live together and have distinct but dynamic cultures. Because of their large size but constantly shifting personnel, these groups are linked only by varying common interests and a consistent residence. Having more than a handful of active small groups increases not only the number of social gatherings, but also the number of distinct viewpoints on a campus.
After freshman year in college – when almost everyone is forced to live with complete strangers – new social interactions outside of class are sparser in dormitory living, especially in places like Hiett or the execs. Although small groups of friends can arrange to live together in quads or doubles that are close to each other, the small number of close friends who live in dorm rooms decreases the mixing and mingling.
As a resident of a fairly active small group, I am always interacting with people invited over to my house by one of my housemates; they often give me new perspectives or expand my range of interests.
Lawrence’s full tuition, with room and board, is over $40,000 a year. Most students who attend are not paying for amenities, but opportunities. Although Lawrence has built many new luxurious living arrangements and eating establishments, it is impossible to replace the authenticity of organic cultures that ferment in small group houses.
The opportunities offered by a residential campus are the freedom of interaction with the broad range of interests represented within an accessible number of students, the ability to live in communities where students can establish their own rules and learn to respect the rights of others, and understand how to interact with others as an individual and someone representing a group.
Lawrence has already begun to have problems related to the dying social scene. The many cases of vandalism in the past few years show a poor sense of ownership and community within the student body. This vandalism may indicate that students are not consistently interacting with their neighbors as friends and do not feel a part of the community in which they live.
Fewer people will feel comfortable vandalizing a building that is a home than one that is a residence. The self-governance of more independent housing communities also makes it easier to regulate the behavior of their inhabitants, either through formal methods or the education that comes with intense socialization.
Another sign has been the dismal social life at Lawrence this year. Because there are only four or five group houses that have a strong enough collective identity to put on social events for the campus, there have only been three or four large registered parties this past term.
Post-graduation social life consists of standing in small apartments or bars talking with familiar adults and a few complete strangers. The unique opportunity offered by a small residential college is an environment where hundreds of people can socialize in one, fairly safe house and interact with a huge, diverse group of opinions and attitudes, while possibly appreciating student bands or food.
During the warmer beginning of the year, people gathered aimlessly on Boldt Way because there was nowhere for them to collectively associate on many weekends when no houses were having a party. Small group houses are the only groups with the ability to have gatherings like this on a regular basis because of their size, organization and connections.
No matter where Lawrence stands in the rankings that have suddenly become so important to our administration, no one will want to come here if the social life is nonexistent.
Both the students and the administration are responsible for the plight of small group housing, and they can both act to fix the situation. The Residence Life Committee, responsible for determining which groups get houses, should look more closely at the willingness of groups to interact with the rest of the campus. If a group’s members are not willing to invite people outside of their group over, or possibly are not even part of a real group, but just some people banded together with the interest of living in nice rooms, there is no reason for them to get a house.
Each group should have to propose examples of events they are willing to put on for the rest of campus when applying for a house. Theme houses have become seemingly unnecessary because most of them are not fulfilling their duties as residential organizations. Instead, their residents are interested in living together for selfish reasons, thereby producing the lies that are the Swing House and the Theater House.
The administration and student government committees in charge of housing have to start looking for different traits in student groups applying for housing, and student groups need to understand the community required and responsibility inherent in living in a group house instead of a dormitory. Hopefully, formal group housing can be salvaged while there is still something worth saving.