Adieu to Dawes House: A Home of History, Center of Culture

Photo by Michelle S. Lee '16 | Dawes House, the French speaking house at Smith, opened in the autumn of 1941 as Smith’s center for French language and culture.

Photo by Michelle S. Lee ’16 | Dawes House, the French speaking house at Smith, opened in the autumn of 1941 as Smith’s center for French language and culture3

 

Sophia Wise ’14
Contributing Writer

For those unaware, Dawes House, the French  speaking house, is condemned to be sold, and likely to be torn down. In examining the implications of its condemnation, I was prompted to recall the house description on the Smith website, a description which ultimately impacted my decision to attend Smith College.

French House, from the Smith College website:

The college began to question the future of its Junior Year in France Program when Paris fell to occupied forces in the early years of the war. So Dawes was opened as La Maison Française in the autumn of 1941 as Smith’s center for French language and culture. After the war, the house continued as the French house, a place where sophomores worked on their fluency before going abroad for their junior year, and where seniors returned from theirs. In 1977, the original house was torn down to accommodate construction of on-campus student apartments, the Friedman Houses. Dawes House was relocated to its current location at 8 Bedford Terrace. In Dawes, students are encouraged to speak French and all house meetings are conducted in French. The house subscribes to a variety of French magazines and newspapers. Even house flyers and signs are translated into French in keeping with the theme.

Before continuing, I will say that Dawes could be a German house or a Spanish house or a Russian house or an Italian house but that would not change the symbolism behind its elimination from the campus. It was founded for the purpose of inspiring worldly curiosity in students, encouraging them to study abroad and to experience that culture in their daily lives. Even well after the war, in 1977, Dawes’ mission was deemed still relevant enough to relocate the house rather than let its programming be eliminated with its original building. My question to Smith is, what changed? When did immersion become so undervalued? When did it become less imperative for sophomores to work on their fluency? When did “a center for language and culture” become something that Smith considers expendable? I have spoken to some school representatives who inform me that Dawes House will be replaced by a language floor in another house. In my opinion, this more likely will breed elitism within the house rather than foster linguistic growth but that is another issue. Regardless of the effect, it clearly cannot replace living and breathing in French, or any language, as students will always default to using English if that is what everyone around them is speaking. I don’t pretend to understand the Smith College budget. I believe that the decision to eradicate Dawes was not made lightly but rather as a last budgetary resort. However, I cannot help but be disappointed, and view its demise as one more step towards the homogenization that we see in  more and more colleges today.

Leave a Comment