|December 12, 2002|
Planning the House System; committee 'with attitude' gets preview of South College renovation
Paul Matarazzo, right, capital projects manager, leads a tour of the South College renovation for members of the House System Implementation Committee.
The cold and dusty shell of South College looked a long way from showcase condition one recent December morning.
But to members of the House System Implementation Committee, what will become the first building of the House System was filled with promises -- huge common rooms, high ceilings and tall windows with sweeping views of campus and beyond.
During a tour of the work in progress, Rebecca Seaman '04 picked out her room and posed gleefully for photos; Byron Nichols wondered aloud if the sturdy 19th-century wooden ceiling beams could remain exposed. (The fire code won't allow it.); several members urged Nichols to head a sub-committee to preserve old vandalism -- floorboards that were carved by students in the mid-1800. (The pieces were sent to Special Collections.) Click here to read a story about the floorboards: http://www.union.edu/N/DS/s.php?s=3230
"This is a committee with attitude," said Tom McEvoy, dean of residential and campus life, over the din of power tools. "And they like to have fun."
The 19-member committee, however, is doing some serious work. Charged with implementing what Dean of Students Fred Alford called "the most significant social change since the College began admitting women," they spent two days in early December considering a range of issues: government structure of the houses, engaging the faculty, and allocating space for common rooms and seminar rooms. They are to meet for two days in early January to continue the discussion and they will meet weekly after that.
Besides the tour of South, they talked with Paul Matarazzo, capital projects administrator, and other members of Facilities. Doug Marshall, lead architect of the project for Sasaki Associates, presented an overview of the plans for all seven houses. Students were excited about the use of color ("There is not enough color on campus," exclaimed sophomore Peter Jewett) and the fact that the house designs and materials are first rate, with a feeling of home. "The plans and color boards clearly show there is an opportunity for great community development," said McEvoy. "I think the campus will like the outcome."
The committee's goal is to make the College's transition to the House System as seamless as possible.
One question arose over South College itself: how can we institute a House System when only two-sevenths of the students and faculty can be affiliated with it? The committee chose to make South into two "laboratories" – Yellow Lab and Green Zone – and have students apply to live in its 98 spaces much as they would for a theme house.
"South will be a bridge to the House System," McEvoy said. "And we can use [the labs] as a way to work out some of the kinks."
Dean of Students Fred Alford passed the torch at a dinner with members of the implementation committee and the U2K committee, which recommended the House System. "I wanted the [new committee] to understand the history of the decision and to give a sense of the importance of the House System to the institution," Alford said.
The meeting of the two committees also created a rivalry or sorts. During dinner, someone observed that two members of U2K became engaged after meeting on the committee, prompting some in the newer committee to wonder how they might top that.
For committee member Therese McCarty, professor of economics, the most exciting part of the committee work is seeing the plans for the houses. "It's exciting to realize that they are going to be great facilities and that all of a sudden students and faculty will have access to them," she said.
McCarty said she also was surprised that the committee has covered so much ground so quickly. "We've made a lot of decisions, but not hastily," she said. "They are very well considered."
"When discussing potentially contentious issues, we've gotten to the point very quickly," McCarty said. For example, the committee has started to tackle the issue of tension between students who are participating in an event and those who are not. (As one student asked, "What about the students who want to come downstairs to a common space in their pajamas?") While each house will set policy about the use of social spaces, the committee has begun to consider how they can minimize tensions by designing separate social spaces. "We need to be aware that there is a lounge space separated from where a group may be showing a movie," McCarty said. "And decisions about furniture are inextricably tied up with how a space will be used."
Students on the committee are very articulate and thoughtful and there is not a Greek versus non-Greek polarization, McCarty said. "I have a hard time remembering which students are Greek and which ones are not."
At the committee's first meeting, one student asked how the faculty and staff members would like to be addressed. "We decided that everyone should be called by their first name," McEvoy said. "It's significant in that every one is an equal player."
The planning and implementation of the House System is being supported by a $200,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
For more about the House System and a list of committee members, visit the web site: http://www.union.edu/HouseSystem
The Residential House System at Union was conceived by a committee of students, faculty and staff and approved by the Board of Trustees. The House System initiative calls for the creation of seven residential houses on the Union campus. The system will bring students, faculty and staff together to engage one another in an out-of-class experience that adds another element of energy and vitality to the campus. Incoming first-year students will receive an assignment to one of the seven houses, and maintain that affiliation though their four years as students, and on into their years as alumni.