Jaro: Northwestern housing should be more freshman-friendly


Jan Jaro, Columnist

Unlike most sophomores at Northwestern, I didn’t spend my freshman year on the Evanston campus (I was fortunate enough to go to a school in Rochester, which is a few degrees warmer than Chicago). And, except for upperclassmen who lived in Elder Hall their first year, few shared my experience of living in a dorm entirely filled with freshmen. Given the choice, most freshmen would probably want to live with others in their class rather than walk half a mile to meet up with friends. Why not accommodate those wishes and add more freshmen-only dorm?

I absolutely loved living in a dorm with 600 other freshmen. Although I never got to meet all of them, we had amazing experiences eating, studying and socializing with each other. My first year of college was amazing because all 600 of us had the same emotions and experiences: failing exams, feeling homesick, living on a tight budget and generally becoming responsible adults (from Sunday through Thursday). My experiences in South Mid-Quads Hall and those that my friends share reveal an important fact of college life: Upperclassmen are snooty. I’m just as guilty as anybody else of not spending time with the freshmen in my dorm. Usually, upperclassmen would rather not hang out with first years unless it’s through athletics or Greek life, even though we were all in their shoes at some point. Living exclusively with other freshmen is a great way to transition from being a protected high school senior to a grown-up. Unfortunately, only 20 percent of new students each year at NU get the experience of living in a dorm exclusively with those in their entering class.

Despite its flaws, NU’s mixed-year housing system has some advantages. Older students are a great source of advice and generally know how to survive as a college student. The University has an amazing residential college system that allows students to choose living space based on shared interests, creating a tight-knit community. Moreover, the relative lack of facilities might require choosing between having freshman-only dorms and maintaining the current residential college system. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of the current housing system.

There’s more than one way to create a close-knit community that allows freshmen to interact on a daily basis. Due to the physical layout of the campus, having a full-blown house system similar to Yale’s or Rice’s might be impractical. However, entering students could choose to live on North or South Campus and then receive a housing assignment in a designated all-freshman dorm (for instance, the Mid-Quad Halls and Sargent Hall could become freshman-only areas). NU could also expand non-residential college membership and assign all freshmen to one of their top three choices. First years could continue expanding their social network by pledging the fraternity or sorority of their choice, potentially giving new students at NU an extended group of friends who are in the same graduating class, have common interests, or are in the same Greek organization.

Creating a more freshman-friendly housing system at NU could be costly and challenging to create. On the other hand, allowing freshmen to live together while facilitating opportunities for them to meet older students with similar interests blends the best of all worlds with the disjointed housing system on campus. At the end of the day, I know that I wouldn’t have traded my experiences living in a freshman dorm for anything else, and I’d be willing to bet that those who lived in Elder feel the same way.

Jan Jaro is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].