September 28, 2010

Northern Exposure

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As a freshman, Orientation Week feels somewhat like summer camp; everyone’s new, there are organized activities and it’s socially acceptable to spontaneously introduce yourself to people you’ve never seen before. Once classes begin, North Campus (for a time) provides a nice retreat where you know that everyone else is also new. However after a month or too, once campus feels a little bit less overwhelming, rather than countering isolation, North Campus encourages it. North Campus dorms are segregated from the rest of the University — freshman are divided from upper classmen and Collegetown by the entire Arts Quad. A good idea in theory — to provide a community for new students — Cornell’s first-year housing also makes the freshman class a distinct and separate community, a detriment to the greater culture of the University. Besides promoting social isolation, North Campus living proves incredibly inconvenient. Its location alone discourages interaction beyond the confines of North. While other students can easily get coffee in Collegetown, go out to dinner or take a break between classes, the schlep back to North impedes any of these activities. In turn, this causes upperclassmen to view freshman differently — while generally accepting, the difference in lifestyle (though forced) does not go unnoticed. On-campus living as a general institution promotes community and should exist as a part of life at a university. However, there are ways to organize this without confining all freshmen to one area of campus that remains decidedly unvisited by those who aren’t required to live there. Alternative models, where incoming freshmen cohabitate with older students, or live in a community defined by something other than class year, would give freshman a break from the incessant Cornellian consciousness that “you are a freshman,” and replace it with the sense that “you are a legitimate part of a larger university.”The British college model might be a nice place to begin. The University of Cambridge is divided into a number of smaller colleges. Each college governs its own admissions and provides residence, meals, academic guidance and small academic classes taught in conjunction with larger classes taken through the University. Similar models appear at certain American universities as well. Yale’s residential colleges, as stated on their website, provide housing as well as academic services. Each college has its own master and dean. The master oversees student life, organizing and hosting lectures and other activities. Each college also includes periodic “Master Teas,” events in which “renowned guests from the academy, government, or popular culture,” visit the college and speak to students. In addition to a master, each college also provides a dean — which means academic advising happens through each college. Deans then have the opportunity to get to know their college, and the situation claims to foster a feeling of less anonymity from freshman year. Further, these colleges aren’t like Cornell’s freshman dorms where, come the end of that school year, you never have to step foot inside your old one again if you don’t want to. A student’s college within Yale is his college throughout his experience there. Which means, the colleges promote community across class years. Students aren’t confined to the community within their colleges as classes are offered through the University. However, the colleges act as an equalizer. Everybody belongs to a college at Yale, whereas at Cornell, not everybody belongs to Low Rise 7. Even if Cornell did not adopt Cambridge or Yale’s housing models, other American universities offer what seem to be more reasonable housing options. At Stanford, for example, 96 percent of students live on campus all four years of attendance. Freshman can choose whether or not they want to live in an exclusively freshman dorm, and university-provided student housing options extend beyond dormitories. Stanford University housing provides a multitude of options ranging from theme and program houses to co-ops to traditional dorms. Cornell could easily integrate some of these ideas. For example, simply housing students of any class year in any dorm would be a huge improvement. More Cornell-run themed and program houses, and less of an emphasis on an exclusively freshman community would, in turn, make more students want to live on campus. Improved living accommodations would eradicate some of the stigma of being a freshman, which is caused primarily by the confined living of first-years. Instead, perhaps housing could encourage community and act as a gateway to academic opportunities, rather than as a hindrance to true integration into the University. Ruby Perlmutter is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Sun Arts & Entertainment Editor. She may be contacted at Having Said That appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Ruby Perlmutter