On Tuesday, March 2nd, several of SLU’s theme houses hosted an ‘Open House’ – an event where students who are interested in applying to the houses were welcome to visit the theme houses and meet their current residents. The theme houses that participated were The Annex, The Women’s Resource Center, Java, The Artist’s Guild, La Casa Latina, The OC, and The Green House. Several theme houses did not partake in the Open House – which could mean they have no open spots for next semester, or are only interested in applicants with pre-established connections to their house.
I talked to residents of the seven houses participating in the event. Admittedly, I did not know much about any of the theme houses before visiting them, aside from the very transparent ones like Java and The OC. I have never had any interesting in living in any of the houses as my impression was that the residents were quite exclusive and the only way to have a chance at living in them would require strong connections to the current residents of the house.
I had also assumed the idea behind the theme houses is to create institutions where students are encouraged to take one of their specific interests (music, the environment, the outdoors), and immerse themselves among people with similar qualities. The communities that are forged in the houses therefore cultivate a passion and forced residents to use that to contribute to the SLU community as a whole – whether through specific events or encouraging students to be more open-minded towards their cause or interest.
Women’s Resource Center
Adele Broberg ’13 explained the purpose of the house: “The WRC is looking to promote gender and equality to our community, which we do through various activities, speak outs, and protests…we’re most known for the ‘Take Back the Night Rally,’” WRC resident Adele Broberg ’11 said.
The WRC exists as a form of activism, which is definitely lacking on our campus. An objectifying mentality and approach towards women is extremely prominent at SLU. Many students are unable to see through the prominence of superficiality and disingenuousness in interactions between the genders at SLU, especially on weekend nights. Many men here are only capable of approaching women with “the game” in mind, and have no intention of acting genuine around the opposite sex. The only goal of interacting with the opposite sex tends to be for a shot at sex or gaining artificial confidence from the attention received from women. The WRC exists to educate women about this phenomenon, and how society encourages women to go along with these interactions.
It seemed to me that the WRC houses many women who have realized the social nature of SLU and the general attitude towards women. Obviously they are focused on the broader context of feminism and bringing power to women in a worldly context – but on campus their goal is educating women and making them aware of how they tend to be treated. The WRC is destined to constantly struggle with its goals, but its intentions are unquestionably pure and needed on this campus.
Norma Heller ’11 explained the intentions of the house: “We focus on on-campus arts. When visiting artists come to campus we really try to go and support that kind of thing.” Jonathon Stopyra ‘13 elaborated, “We focus on the teaching and practicing of art.”
The Artist’s Guild is important, like The Annex and Java, because it connects people passionate about the arts and has the potential to prevent the aforementioned suppression and ignorance of the arts on campus. The impression I got from the Artist’s Guild residents was that most of them felt alienated and struggled socially on campus before joining the house – mainly because they found it difficult finding “artsy” people to connect with. It’s extremely beneficial to have a house full of artists who can communicate with each other and invoke inspiration, but it seems that the strong connection the members have developed has resulted in them intentionally excluding themselves from the rest of campus.
The Artist’s Guild has the potential to hold events that would draw people interested in fine arts, and help other students connect through artistic common ground. They are not active in the community though, and it seemed to me that they are content with being exclusive and alienating themselves from the rest of campus. There is a strong potential for activism within the Artist’s Guild, especially with the lack of funding for the arts as opposed to the sciences, but there is nothing developing whatsoever.
“The purpose of the house is to provide Hispanic culture on campus, to bring awareness of the Hispanic population that is at SLU, and combine different cultures together in a living space,” Kimberley Cardona ’12 said.
There is no question that SLU lacks diversity, but assigning a theme house to a specific cultural background doesn’t seem like the right approach to the problem. Having students that are in a cultural minority culturally live off-campus in their own house makes SLU appear less diverse, and fails the promote interaction and understanding between students of different backgrounds. It’s important for Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish students to be able to connect with their peers and help promote their cultures together, but encouraging them to alienate themselves and move away from campus doesn’t really make sense.
The house is also not full, which makes it difficult to promote and hold events for the SLU community at large. The residents of the house seem to harbor a collective frustration with the lack of diversity and cultural tolerance here at SLU, which has the potential to be channeled into making an effort to change student’s perceptions. It’s great that the house is a place where students can share common experiences with and function as a sort of “sanctuary,” but the house should function primarily as a base for activism.
When asked about the purpose of the OC theme house Wes Norton ’11 said, “The purpose of our club is to lead SLU students into the outdoors, and although there are 25 of us that can live in the Outing Club, just about every student at SLU is a member of the Outing Club by taking part on our trips. We try and provide a wide offering of trips to SLU students…and an outlet on campus for students get out and do fun things.”
Evan Haynes ’12 elaborated, “It’s just great being around 24 other people who have a lot of energy and are coming up with interesting and exciting things. Living in this house is about bettering ourselves and sending out better trips.”
There’s no question that the OC is the most transparent theme house and a staple of the St. Lawrence community. Just about every student has partaken in Peak Weekend, Fall Fest, or the Global Cooldown. Many students come to SLU without significant outdoor inclinations, but develop an interest and passion after taking part in one of the OC’s events or being exposed to other students who have a passion for the outdoors. The residents of the house emphasize their openness to helping people with any type of trip, no matter how basic or bizarre it sounds, and desire to share their passions with as many students as possible.
As far as the house itself, it seems like it would be practically impossible to get in without a strong connection to the current residents. A vast number of SLU students (perhaps the majority) are passionate about the outdoors, and the residents of the OC appear to be perceived as the “elite outdoorsman” of the school. I’d imagine there are also a considerable amount of students who would love to live in the OC but are denied an opportunity to because of the amount of the sheer amount of people who share that interest. The house may be exclusive, but the club itself is not by any means.
The Green House
“The Green House’s purpose is to promote environmental awareness on campus and the community of Canton. We try to make events that are fun and involved, and it isn’t all about being green…we’re all passionate about the environment,” Izzy Bruno ’11 said.
The Green House, like the WRC, is an activism-based theme house. Most of the students who live there have a specific cause they are interested in, and are encouraged to create events that invoke awareness about their issue of choice. They are quite active on campus. There are many homogeneous environmental organizations on campus, but the Green House sets itself apart from the others by being more transparent and active when it comes to holding events and putting themselves out there.
The Green House seemed exclusive though. My impression was that it would be difficult to join without knowing residents of the house, especially considering the number of students interested in the environment. However, the house’s contributions to campus outweigh that alone, and they utilize it to make their goals more transparent and bring appealing events to campus.
It seems to me that many of the students involved in theme houses overall are purposely escaping campus instead of bringing their interests back into the community. This results in elitism and dispersion of some of SLU’s most passionate students and potential activists away from campus both socially and geographically. Many students who joined theme houses struggled socially before finding connections within the house, and once they joined unintentionally lost touch with the rest of campus – aside from taking part in the events their house is responsible for holding.
Activism and connecting students with similar interests is extremely important to campus and improving the college experience, but when those students are isolated and drawn away from the community, that purpose is not served. The theme houses could be better utilized if the residents were encouraged to commit more to the purpose and goals of the house as a whole, instead of being used for socializing and fostering cliques.