Officials hope freshman-only dorms will foster unity

Sheila Burt

Many of the 1,947 students expected to enroll in Northwestern this fall face a housing decision that has not been offered to other incoming students for decades. In addition to choosing between living in a standard dorm or residential college, the class of 2007 has the option to live in an all-freshmen residence hall.

As part of a pilot program, NU announced in mid-April that 600 Lincoln and Hinman House will be converted into the university’s only all-freshmen dorms. About 86 students, two-thirds freshmen, currently live in the adjoining dorms.

Although specific details won’t be discussed by Undergraduate Residential Life officials until the summer, administrators said they hope a freshmen-only dorm will help foster a stronger sense of identity within the incoming class.

“I think there’s something to be said for first-year students having this common experience, particularly at Northwestern, where common experiences are not so easy to come by,” University President Henry Bienen said.

The program will challenge a 30-year university housing policy that has supported mixing freshmen with upperclassmen. But NU isn’t the only university offering freshmen-only housing, as many other institutions separate classes to promote unity among new students.

A look ahead

Students at NU traditionally have a strong affiliation with their individual undergraduate school rather than with their class, but an all-freshmen area of campus could help promote this sense of class unity, university officials said.

“One of the most popular activities at Northwestern is the reunion program, where graduating seniors go back to their freshman living units,” said William Banis, vice president for student affairs. “Graduating students have a special feeling for the people they lived with during their freshman year.”

Housing officials will design special programs geared toward freshmen to aid their adjustment to college, he said.

Officials emphasize that they will evaluate the pilot project at the end of the year and that it could be expanded or disbanded. “We’ll try it here,” Banis said. “If it works we will retain it and perhaps expand it. If it doesn’t work well, we haven’t risked much.”

Like the administrators, incoming and current NU students said they see both positive and negative aspects to the pilot project.

One incoming Communication freshman, Arielle Mikos from Barrington, Ill., said part of the reason she signed up to live in Bobb Hall was the variety of people. “It will be good to meet people who already know what’s going on and (who can) help you figure out what’s going on.”

But Joe Aphinyanaphongs from Nashville, Tenn., who visited the Evanston Campus during Preview NU in April, sees benefits to living with students who can adjust to college together.

“Everyone is in the same boat and are sharing the same experiences,” he said.