In the past few weeks, Swarthmore students have heard the whisperings of housing policy changes for the upcoming fall semester. In discussions with our peers, we felt increasing concern about the limited or complete lack of communication from those making the policy decisions while rumors swirled about first-year exclusive housing, new limits on sophomore blocking, and changes in the RA system. As RA changes remain only in the realm of hearsay, we won’t be discussing them in this article. We do, however, maintain that transparency and two-way communication is vital in any changes to such important components of residential life, even if only to dispel unfounded fears.
This is why we met with a member of the OSE to discuss some of these changes. During that conversation, we learned that there are currently plans in place to have five first-year exclusive halls at Swarthmore: three in Willets and two in Mary Lyons. While the OSE is still finalizing the details for this change, the current plan would place about 25% of the incoming class into halls with only other first-year students.
Although we understand that there are potential benefits associated with first-year exclusive housing, including transitional programming and stronger intra-class bonds, we believe that the proposed measures—in particular, the move to first-year only housing—are too extreme for a pilot year and have great potential for unwanted consequences.
The current situation, in which mixed-year housing is commonplace across campus, has helped foster an environment unique to our small school. First-years are often treated as equal members of the community rather than being stigmatized or considered “lesser” based on their class. We have both personally had very positive experiences in our mixed-year halls. The upperclassmen on our halls have been essential resources for any and all questions or concerns about the school. They’ve played big roles in helping us integrate into the Swarthmore community, and in many cases, have become our close friends. Many of those upperclassmen hold leadership positions all across campus and encouraged new students to participate in the lively campus culture.
It’s the virtual non-existence of class year boundaries that allows ideas to flow freely and large projects to quickly achieve high levels of collaboration and participation. Losing the connections forged between upperclassmen and first-years by shared residential life would only serve to weaken these bonds. A first-year class that has a fourth of its members living exclusively with one another would be insular and less connected to the community of the College as a whole.
Despite the potential impact of these housing changes, however, the student body has largely been kept in the dark while these decisions were made. We feel that it is the College’s duty, in holding to its Quaker values, to seek the input of the student body on decisions that have direct and widespread effects on the whole of campus culture and to provide clarity on both the content and reasoning behind them. While the College naturally must make some decisions independent of its students under time and liability constraints, we believe that this issue is far too important to be made behind closed doors.