Zoya Azhar ’20
Smith College’s Residence Life Office sent out a survey a week ago, wanting the student body’s opinion on adding themed or special-interest housing to the college’s residential living options.
Smith’s housing system currently includes traditional houses, co-ops, themed housing options, student apartments and housing for Ada Comstock Scholars. A floor in Chase House offers substance free housing to students of all class years, where alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs are not allowed. Tenney and Hopkins are both food cooperatives, where residents of the house share the responsibility of buying food, cooking and cleaning. The Tenney House community is vegetarian, while Hopkins is not. The expectations that come with living in a cooperative are significant, involving nearly 10 hours per week on building house community and participating in housework and house activities.
Smith also has a French Speaking Community which is located in Cutter House. All community meetings are in French and there is a general encouragement to communicate in French as well. And lastly, the Friedman Apartments are another one of Smith’s non-traditional housing options. They were created in response to student requests for on-campus independent living options, but are only open to seniors.
ResLife’s recent survey came after students expressed interest in adding special-interest or themed housing to the residential living options. The opportunities for additional special-interest housing could include things like quiet floors, language floors/houses, houses or floors reserved for students of a certain academic major or for students who have common student organization interests. Floors or houses centered on identity exploration are also a potential option.
All of these ideas seem well-intentioned and may be a great step towards making the campus community safer and more comfortable for the diverse group of people that the college attracts every year. However, some of these proposals also beg the question of whether this sectioning off will feed a negative in-group, out-group mentality. It might not necessarily create problems but it may become an obstacle in the way of various on-campus groups mixing and engaging with each other. But then again, many would argue that there are plenty of opportunities to mingle with different people on-campus and that special-interest housing would only ensure that students feel safe and welcome within their living spaces and are able to take ownership of their home. With repeated cases of racism and tensions within house communities, this proposal seems to be in the interest of those who bear the brunt of the problem.
In conclusion, over 450 Smith students responded to the survey but this is barely 10 percent of the total student body (as of 2016) and there is definitely a need for more people to voice their opinions on the matter.