Kiran: What do you think makes Maclean unique?
Harper: How much time have you got, really? [laughs]
Every year, the O-Week staff in Maclean gets to paint another quote up on the wall, putting a bit of their tradition and what third-year Larsen Linov described as, “our own permanent mark,” on the interior walls of the building for generations of students to come. Harper Graf, a second-year in Maclean added, “we always joke that you navigate by quote here. You see the same ones every day, they kind of just stick in your brain. I’m a big believer in whatever you surround yourself with; it kind of imprints on you. If you surround yourself with funny quotes or great people, which we have in Maclean, you’re pretty much always happy.”
The building used to be cooperative living for older people. It was sponsored by a religious institution, indicated by the massive cross in the building, and the chapel that is now the RH apartment. One hallway was even used as a “psych ward”—think stone walls, creepy atmosphere, and a murder bathroom with red paint on the walls.
When he enters Maclean, Linov almost always stops to chat in HQ, one of the main house lounges on the first floor. On his way to the staircase up to his room he’ll peek into the game room to see if someone’s playing ping pong. Harper describes this pattern as the “Maclean flow.” A lot of the common areas intersect. “When I walk into the house, the first thing I do is…say hi to the front desk lady […] go up the stairs, [and] go into the common spaces to my room. And a lot of people develop that flow. But when you go to North, it’s straight up and down.”
This flow contributes to the communal atmosphere of the dorm—most students have to walk through at least one of the house lounges to get to their room. Hadi Iskandarani, an RA in Maclean, explained, “I live right off the lounge […] so it’s always nice to come to your room and after a long day or after a midterm, have everyone there saying, ‘Oh, hey, what’s up.’ I love the homecoming feeling.”
Despite having almost all singles, the “fiercely independent kingdom of the north,” is a very social dorm with six major common spaces. Iskandarani explained: “Our meeting room for house meetings is the assembly room, shortened as the ‘Ass Room’ for better or worse.”
Another common space is HQ—a cavernous, dimly-lit lounge right off of the main foyer—incredibly large as to be conducive to multiple, simultaneous activities. Right next to HQ is the dining room, which connects HQ to the gigantic restaurant-sized kitchen, which is lined with lockers for every student and filled with many communal fridges. There is a game room on the lounge floor and a solarium, a library-like, quiet study space that is vaguely reminiscent of an astrological observatory.
“If you want to make friends, having singles essentially forces you to come out of your room and talk to people,” Graf explained. “This building shapes the community in allowing you to just come together in different ways and share whatever you’re doing- studying, cooking, moaning about midterms, whatever it may be.” Linov added, “We’re definitely losing the uniqueness of a stand-alone building. It makes us feel like we have our own identity.” Melissa Li, the other Maclean RA added, “We have a lot of nooks and crannies in the hallways. I think there’s one on the second floor. We call it the ‘BA Cave’.”
“When we had the satellite study breaks, a lot of Brekkies came and, you know, they’re very attached to Breckinridge, but they came here and said, ‘this really feels like home. We can see why you really love it here. Because we wouldn’t give this up for the world.’ And really feel like we shouldn’t and we don’t want to,” Graf said.
Brief History of Housing
On April 20, 2015 housing announced its biggest change to date: the closing of five dorms situated at the edges of campus and Hyde Park, called “satellite” dorms. This represented an unprecedented contraction of campus housing buildings, coinciding with the opening of the University’s largest new dorm, Campus North—an 800-student-capacity megaplex located on the former site of Pierce Tower, another dorm that closed at the end of the 2012–13 school year. Beginning in the 2016–17 school year, the dorms of Blackstone, Broadview, and Maclean would be sold to private investors, while New Grad and Breckinridge would be repurposed for other campus uses, with New Grad becoming the new home of the Harris School of Public Policy, opening in autumn 2018.
The four-house building, the tallest tower called “Community #1,” would include the former Tufts, Henderson, and Midway, as well as Maclean house. The three-house building, “Community #2”, would house former Wick, Talbot, and Palmer, in hopes of maintaining the dynamic that currently exists in Broadview. Blackstone House will enjoy the single-house building. Breckinridge House, will move to International House and keep its name.
Prior to the closing of the satellites, the campus endured consistent but incremental shifts in housing. Throughout the history of the University of Chicago, a total of 13 dorms have been decommissioned, including Pierce Tower, Shoreland (closed 2009), Gates-Blake (1960), and Goodspeed (1938).
In Dean John Boyer’s 2009 paper titled, “The Kind of University That We Desire to Become,” Boyer outlined goals for University housing that included housing 70 percent of students on campus, increasing the retention of upper classmen in housing, and the constructing two to three new large residence halls. These ambitious goals drive the future of University housing.
The University has long dreamt of an undergraduate campus to rival its Ivy League peers. Inspired by the Harkness Quad models found at Harvard and Yale, University President Ernest Burton pushed his “Dream of the Colleges” plan for an undergraduate campus south of the Midway. The 1927 plan called for a French Gothic style academic and residential quad on the site between Ellis and University avenues and 60th and 61st Streets. Burton-Judson Courts, built in 1931, is the only piece of the plan that was ultimately built, squandered by economic turmoil from the Great Depression and WWII.
An 80-year-old dream in the making, the University has continued to expand southward into Woodlawn, opening Renee Granville-Grossman Commons in 2009 and the Logan Center for the Arts in 2012.
All of this is to say, as Boyer put it in 2014, “The way to fight a party is to throw a better party, not to cancel it. I’ll bet you that the day [North Campus dormitory] opens we’re gonna have third- and fourth-year kids lined up around the block [….] I’m pretty confident that if we can build it, they will come.” With a vision and capital soon to back it, the University has set its sights on an undergraduate experience unparalleled in the Midwest.
Blackstone – Housing Options and Building Eccentricity
Julia: The elevator is one of the best things in Blackstone. It makes people who don’t live there so uncomfortable and I love it. It jolts a lot.
Alex: It’s an old freight elevator so you have to manually open two doors [one of which is a metal grate]. Sometimes it stops in between floors.
Julia: There’s a light switch that you’re not technically supposed to touch. But we all flip it off and on. We have strobe light elevator parties, but don’t tell our RH.
Ben: I live on the second floor and I took the elevator all the time. It’s just that good.
The elevator only goes up to the fifth floor, but the building has six stories, with a couple of rooms and a sunny and airy solarium on the top floor. This legendary elevator ride is a routine one for Julia Mearsheimer, a first-year resident of Blackstone, as she heads to her room on the fifth floor, halfway down a narrow and unseasonably warm hallway.
“It’s a suite, but it’s basically apartments,” Alex Warminski, a first-year in the house, explained. “There’s a little kitchenette, a bathroom, and your own room. It’s basically living in an apartment without the duties and responsibilities of living in an apartment. I think it’s unique that Blackstone is kind of a transition building—it matches the transition we are in as adults.”
Blackstone used to be a boarding house for female nurses. Its compactness is apparent in the small lobby area that doubles as a semi-house lounge. A grand piano is nestled in a nook, and couches with Blackstone and Scav banners make sure everyone knows which house they’re stepping into. Most of the common spaces are on the first floor, including a spacious, but mostly empty kitchen, and a cozy and brightly painted game room where students devotedly play Mario Kart.
“I feel sad, when I think of Blackstone moving,” Mearsheimer continued, “because when you walk into Blackstone you feel the legacy of all these people before you. There’s all these holes in my bathroom door and I’m like, ‘who put these here,’ but they are reminders of students before me.”
The quirks that come with living in an old building are a source of Blackstone pride. According to Mearsheimer, “each room is really different; my friend’s room is so cold she has to sleep with a hat and 50 blankets, and my room is so hot I can’t do anything in there with clothing on. Why is that in my room I’m sweating and in her room she’s wearing a hat to bed?”
Blackstone, despite its less modern construction, provides essential variety to the housing options for first years. “Private bathrooms are a necessity,” Warminski explained. This is especially important for students who value or need privacy, like trans students. According to Skylar Spear, Halperin RA and former Wick resident, “I honestly recognize the need to update dorms; but there is something missing from the policy as it currently stands. I do not feel that it incorporates the legitimate need for equal bathroom access for trans students, nor does it find an effective way to afford privacy to people when the single users are so frequently occupied by people who just use the closest bathroom they can find.”
Housing options are being limited. Whereas housing used to work for a lot of different types of people, now it primarily caters to someone who wants social interaction most of the time, someone who likes to share space and bathrooms. With the move to North, the possibility of a first-year receiving a single is drastically reduced.
“I don’t want a roommate, my single space is really important to me,” Mearsheimer argued. “I think a really important part of growing is just being alone with yourself. I don’t know how you get that when you’re in a double.” Ben Hix, another first-year, agreed, adding, “Having privacy, to me, translates to opportunity to be creative [with my music]. If I was in a double, unless I had someone who just didn’t care about noise, it probably wouldn’t work.”
What is in a Name? Tradition and Pride for a House
Adriana: Other houses, not that they should want to be us…
Rohan: They should.
Sydney: They should.
Monica: They should.
Adriana: It’s too bad that not everyone gets to live in Breck.
Adam Sutherland, a Breck fourth-year reminisced, “We think of ourselves as lucky that we’re the last people who were able to spend all four years within Breck. We’re sad, and we fought the University every step of the way. We mobilized the “Save Breck” movement as early as early 2014. We organized and held weekly meetings before they announced they were going to close Breck.”
“We feel like we were in a debate with the university as to whether the people or the building makes the house,” Sutherland said. “I think both ended up shaping each other. Breckinridge works really well as a building that fosters social interactions. The stairwells come out in the center of hallways instead of at the corners. Back in the day it was designed to discourage men from sneaking in. You’re everyone’s business here, for better or for worse.”
Women are at the center of this dorm, in the construction, history, and in the name. The building was built in 1916 for the Eleanor Foundation for Women, which is an organization founded by a UChicago alumnus, like Hull House, “but with a more middle class focus,” in fourth-year Adriana Rizzo’s words. The Foundation aimed to get women in the workforce by trying to find them a place to live that was, “socially acceptable and supportive.”
The dorm’s current namesake, Sophonisba Breckinridge, was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in political science from the University and became the first woman to graduate from the Law School in 1904. The University appointed her the Samuel Deutsch Professor of Public Welfare Administration in 1929, making her the first female professor granted a named professorship. She was also the first woman ever chosen to represent the United States at an international conference. Breckinridge even advocated for the racial integration of Kelly Hall—in 1928!
The residents of Blackstone feel similarly attached to their name. “Losing the name is the biggest [loss for us],” Mearsheimer explained. “It’s the biggest slap in the face, pouring salt in the wound. The renaming just seems like a huge money grab to me.”
With this loss of name could come a loss of collective memory. “In two to three years, they won’t know that our dorm was 60-year-old home since the 1950s,” Warminski said.
Rosemarie Ho, a second-year in Palmer House, noted her frustration at the naming changes and the “politics of campus housing.” “I feel betrayed by college housing. At least keep the name! House names are supposed to be a celebration of people who contributed to UChicago being uniquely UChicago.”
After this spring, many of these house namesakes will be lost into the never-ending abyss of important University namesakes who by merit and virtue warranted their campus presence, replaced by the allure of donations. Lost to the annals of University history will be power ladies such as Alice Freeman Palmer (1855–1902) and Marion Talbot (1858–1948), the first two Dean of Women at Chicago, respectively. Before Chicago, Palmer was also the first female college president appointed by trustees at the age of 27, the youngest faculty member at Wellesley at the time. She was a promoter of women’s higher education and equality, even resigning her post at UChicago in 1895 in response to the male faculty’s retaliation against the “feminization” of higher ed. Palmer’s successor, Talbot, was a long-standing advocate of the view that suitable housing was a critical variable in making women students feel comfortable and safe at the University.
Not to be outdone, Norman Maclean (1902–1990) was a professor of English noted for his acclaimed book A River Runs Through It (1976). His book was the first work of fiction published by the University of Chicago Press. Warren A. Wick (1911–1985) was Dean of Students during another turbulent time from 1962–1967, a period of student protest over the Vietnam War and civil rights. James H. Tufts (1862–1942), one of the founding members of the Philosophy department, and one of the founding fathers of the “Chicago School of Pragmatism”, and was briefly an acting president. Charles R. Henderson (1848–1915) was a minister and professor of sociology, studying the U.S. prison system and the sociology of charitable organizations.
Breckinridge is the only house of the moving satellites that gets to keep its name, and with it, a key part of the culture and identity that is so integral to the house. “On Sophie Day every year we have an event where we invite professors to come have drinks and snacks. It’s just really fancy,” Ellie Porath, an RA in Breckenridge, said. “After that, in October, we have a huge haunted house, and it’s open to the public,” Michael Goodyear, her co-RA, continued. “We had a few hundred people from the community come this year, which was kind of low. Usually there’s more.”
This year’s theme was post-apocalyptic nuclear research facility.
“Everyone gets blood and gore everywhere and gets super into it and it’s really creepy. I thought that this would be low production quality] but it really wasn’t,” Porath said.
Late into the night in Breck you may hear a declaration of another “Tea Party, Death Party,” a tea-drinking tradition started by a now fourth-year associate named Joyce. In late November Brecksgiving draws legions of “Breckspats” to join the current Breckies for a Thanksgiving feast. Last year, alumni came from as far as Seattle. With a space all to itself, when Breck hosts parties, the house moves all the furniture in their main lounge and has a dance upstairs while using their cavernous kitchen and huge basement lounge to serve food. “We’re unapologetically enthusiastic,” first-year Sydney Purdue said.
“We’re quirky but militant. We have a very strong martial vigor. One of the nicknames is the ‘Breckempire.’ We were rivals with Cathey back when they were Shataqwa. We beat them so badly they had to change their name,” second-year Marianne Engelke said.
This legacy is perpetuated by passionate students who know they want to live in a particular satellite dorm before entering the housing system. “Blackstone was nice because you could apply to a unique house and have a pretty good shot at getting in,” Hix explained, when discussing what would be lost with a move to a more consolidated dorm. “People get to choose a specific house, like Breck, not just a dorm, when they’re applying for housing,” Rizzo agreed. The fact that people can apply to these stand-alone dorms, as opposed to all the South houses or all the Max houses draws people who are particularly well suited to and passionate about the unique culture this house provides.
Students are concerned that larger dorms allow more students to “slip through the cracks.” Goodyear expressed concern that when his residents move to I-House, they won’t have to go through a common space to get to their room and won’t benefit from the relationships and familiarity that front desk staff have with residents in satellite dorms. In this way, he predicts that their problems might go unnoticed. He explained “Front desk ladies can tell, too, when someone’s had a bad day and in a dorm of 800, you’re just not going to have that to the same degree.”
From the Neighborhood Strategy to Campus Clusters
It’s Open-House Night at Broadview on a cool late April evening. There are volunteer tour guides awaiting lobby guests excited to see the last vestiges of the fifty year-old dorm. Nestled in the quiet confines of East Hyde Park, Broadview is the east-most University building currently in use. For most students, Broadview is simply the end of a #171 bus ride that has never been taken, a place just too far away to be salient. “People think Broadview is in Indiana,” said first-year Palmer resident Srikanth (Sri) Krishnan.
When you enter Broadview, you definitely know that you’re in a former hotel. There’s a Grand Ballroom with wooden lower walls and an off-white dim. There’s the original number plates for the hotel room numbers and the “Check out by 3 p.m.” plaque that welcomes you into the hallways. There’s “The Suite”, a communal kitchen and lounge area where residents grab some “Broadview Breakfast”—think America’s finest complementary motel continental breakfast—before embarking on the pilgrimage to the Quad or Fortress Regenstein. There are also the charming carpeted, rickety elevators that are purportedly haunted by the legend of the escort girl who died in the elevator. “Ah, yes, we call her Lola,” second-year Talbot tour guide Margaret Oley explained.
Broadview is home to Wick, Talbot, and Palmer Houses—in ascending order. Each house holds about 65 people, with significant numbers of upperclassmen residents. Krishnan and Ho characterized the Broadview houses as following:
Wick: “A psychotic three-year-old with too much energy”
Talbot: “A teenager in way over their head who prefers to be alone”
Palmer: “We’re the old man who has lived a content life. We just don’t care.”
Unlike the other four satellite closings, Broadview has been home to multiple houses, bonded together since its opening in 1966. The Broadview way of life, much like other satellites, is defined by being far away and is realized by coming home. “There’s a mimetic quality to being farthest from campus. There’s something prideful about it,” Hamilton Wilson, a first-year in Palmer House, said. However, Broadviewers would be the first to admit that the distance can be quite prohibitive. “The thing about satellites: It’s easier to make your first friends. It’s harder to make your second friends,” Krishnan said.
When you come back to Broadview, you’re home, you’re no longer on campus. And once you’re home, you’re probably in for the night. “House culture here is connected to the distance—you spend more time with people in the dorm, you can’t just run to the library whenever. Living far away makes it feel like coming to an actual home, more like family. You’re forced to be with people and you love them,” explained Delon Lier, a second-year in Wick.
The experience of Broadview is distinctly more Hyde Park and less so UChicago campus. Said Talbot second-year Adam Gruenbaum, “Broadview is right on the #6 Express, so Talbot has a huge culture of getting out and going into the city.” Ho agreed, “I feel more integrated with Hyde Park. I feel like a greater part of Chicago, not just the UChicago bubble.” It remains to be seen if Wick can continue its house’s time-honored tradition of 5:30 a.m. Valois trips when they move to the more distant North building.
Campus North is designed to be a paradise of convenience and a fusion of all the best recognized elements of campus housing. Eight houses of roughly a hundred students will be condensed around a three-story lounge filled with study spaces and ample activity space. Apartment suites, restaurants, and shops located throughout the building hope to entice upperclassmen to stay in Housing. The houses will be connected to a dining hall, a half-block away from the gyms Ratner and Crown, and the #55 bus/UPASS combo makes for a tempting getaway to Chicago’s many neighborhoods. Even several classrooms will open in Campus North for the lucky few who might have a class in their own dorm. The benefits of modern amenities are indeed an easy sell.
The University’s long sought after transition from a collection of neighborhood buildings to a centralized campus cluster comes with drawbacks as well, chief among them includes distancing students from the neighborhood they reside in.
Students across satellites would beam and often note the benefits of living in housing, but off-campus. Said first-year Katrina Weinert of Blackstone, “I think you can get into a system where you’re only thinking about the Reg and Bartlett and classes. When you walk by these stores and people living their everyday lives, it’s a powerful reminder that even though you’re in some kind of bubble, it’s not as if you’re never going to leave it.” As Mearsheimer exclaimed, “Because we live on a residential street, there’s lots of dogs. We watch the puppies grow up on Blackstone. It’s so great.”
First-year Ben Fogarty of Henderson will miss the space provided by the Midway. “On one hand the Midway is this giant obstacle that blows wind really fast and makes you cold, but on the other hand, it’s a source of community for us too.”
The end of the Satellite era of University housing is an end to a period without a plan, and the half-fulfillment of a dream long desired. The post-war decades of the ’50s and ’60s created a great and unmet demand for affordable University housing in Hyde Park. During this time, only two smaller dorms, Pierce and Woodward Courts, would be as constructed by the University until the opening of Max Palevsky Residential Commons in 2002—a 42-year drought.
But the dream for a Harvard-style residential quad was never forgotten. In 1964, The Blum Faculty Committee, appointed by president Edward Levi, revived notions of Judson’s “Dream of the Colleges” and stoked popular support among the University community for a residential quad.
Blum’s bold vision, according to Boyer, culminated in the 1967 University announcement of a “plan for a student complex, called ‘the North Quadrangle,’ which would include housing for nine hundred students in a student village; art, music, and drama buildings; and an athletics center with a swimming pool.” However, like the Burton plans of the late 1920s for a new South Campus residential plan, the Blum Committee’s new North Campus was “swallowed up by a combination of other urgent needs, budget crises, and planning inertia,” Boyer wrote.
Despite the Blum Report principles, the University would end up filling short-term needs by acquiring buildings in the neighborhood. This “neighborhood strategy,” as Boyer put it, “was less a consistent strategy than a series of ad hoc attempts to stay ahead of student demand by incrementally purchasing old buildings that had fallen upon hard times and converting them to student use (i.e., the acquisition of Broadview Hall in 1967 and the Shoreland Hall in 1975).
As for what the former Broadview residents will call their new home going forward? “New Broadview,” the unanimously approved namesake of the new gleaming white palisade overlooking University Avenue.
Robin: How would you describe your experience in Maclean in one word?
Melissa: Serendipitous. We all just kind of fell here and something just kind of meshed about this place, knitted us together, and that’s it.
Despite the amount of careful thought University administrators over the years put into planning their campus strategy, most students don’t come to satellite dorms with such a clear sense of what they are getting into. In fact, most students in satellite dorms didn’t initially plan on ending up there. Gruenbaum didn’t even rank Broadview on his Housing form, opting for the typical Snell/Hitchcock-Max-South trinity, “because I wanted modern utilities instead of heat problems,” he explained.
However, most feel lucky and happy with where they ended up. “One thing we’d always use to say is ‘Breckinridge chooses us.’ For a lot of us it wasn’t our top choice, sometimes second or third,” Rizzo said. Her housemate Conor Marco, a first-year added, “It wasn’t my top choice but it ended up being one of the best places that I think I could’ve been put because of the sense of community.” Maclean RA Melissa Li agreed, “Most people are like ‘I didn’t even put down Maclean, why did I end up here?’ And then come a month later, everyone loves it.”
Many satellite dorm residents agree that satellite dorms are comprised of a very specific and unique group of people. “People in Broadview fall into three main buckets,” Ridwan Syed, a fourth-year from Wick, explained. “First are people who want private bathrooms, second are waitlisted people and late deposits on the fence about UChicago, and third are people who thought UChicago was weird and said ‘hmm, maybe better to not have a roommate….’” (Singles are guaranteed for first-years in most satellite dorms). “But that really backfired by ending up here,” Syed’s housemate joked. “Yeah, you’re in the weirdest house.”
Kassim Husain, a Henderson second-year, fits into the second of these three categories. “I was deferred and got off the waitlist here. I deposited April 29. Everyone else here deposited relatively late, and that’s why we’re here. But the awesome thing about that, the general personality of the people who deposit late are just a chill group who have had to wait, this solid group of people you can relate to immensely. [For that reason], this is still a dorm that I would pick over and over.”
“Houses are traditionally comprised of students from all years in the College, so mentoring begins on day one!” – College Housing website.
This fact, on which the College Housing Office prides itself, is much less true in larger dorms than satellites. For example, in Maclean, most house members return to the dorm for all four years. “We had about 75 percent of our residents staying, not accounting for students graduating,” explained Iskandarani. Rizzo agreed. “Breck is pretty good with retention. That’s something specifically identified as something housing makes as its goal and it seems weird that they’re destroying the houses that have the highest retention.” Contrastingly, in houses in Max and South, fewer upperclassmen tend to stay on. For example, in Flint House, in Max Palevsky, two third-years and five second-years are returning to the 80-person house for their fourth and third years, respectively.
This retention is also integral to maintaining a sense of house culture that is so central to satellite dorms. “The culture was so strong when we got here, all the upperclassmen would say, ‘let’s all go to Bartlett together that’s just what we do,’ or, ‘let’s all care for each other, that’s just what we do here,’ and so a lot of the first-years came in and this was just the norm. I think they were surprised to see in other houses people just weren’t as tight knit. Having a strong group of people coming back to perpetuate the culture is the number one thing,” Li explained.
This strong group of people is harder to come by with the move. Broadview houses, which have much lower retention rates than in years past, according to their Housing staff and upperclassmen in Palmer, Talbot, and Wick Houses. Shaila Sundram, RA of Palmer stated, “Most of the house is moving off, triggered by the housing move. Many people who would’ve stayed had Broadview remained open are now choosing to move off.” Graf agreed, “Some of the sense of community […] is going to be lost because we’re losing great people. A lot of kids didn’t want to take a double. ”
In a 2014 Maroon article, it was found that approximately 50 percent of students in the College live on campus, a percentage that lags behind the number of students living on campus in peer institutions such as Harvard University, with 97 percent, Yale with 87 percent. “A lot of Universities now have optional residential colleges you can apply for, to live in a more local, community setting. It seems like essentially what satellite dorms have now and it’s odd that as the benefits of this model are being recognized elsewhere, that Chicago is moving precisely against it by consolidating,” Breckinridge second-year Malloy Owen explained.
Growing house size with the move to North is a concern. The New Grad and Broadview houses are expanding from a size of 65–80 residents to over 100. Sundram explained, “It’s harder to form those close ties in a house with so many people. Everyone won’t know everyone else in the house, as they do now.”
New Grad Traditions the Potential Positives of Moving
Unlike many of his satellite peers, second-year Kassim Husain is excited for his house’s move to Campus North. He’s been in Hyde Park since he was six, as a student at the Lab School, and has seen the campus—and the student body—transform right in front of him. He’s seen Housing undergo many changes in his time and believes that this next step is one in the right direction.
Other students also think that, on the whole, the move to Campus North is a good thing. As Ella Sperling, a first-year in Henderson, explained, “to be honest, one reason why people in New Grad may be less sad about the move is because most of us put Max or South as our first two choices […] A lot of us wanted something more akin to North.” Henderson first-year Kevin Li explained, “New Grad is very conducive to familial living in the way the rooms are in a circle and all of the middle is common area. There’s no dead-end corridors.”
“The way that the house is structured, there’s very long hallways, so every time you leave, you see what everyone’s up to, and because our lounge smells bad because a Northwestern girl puked in our lounge, and is small, everyone hangs out in the hallways,” said Midway first-year Ricky Novaes de Oliveira. Hallway parties in “The Shining”-esque halls of New Grad’s highest floor are a fundamental social function in Midway because Midway is the only house on campus to be fully and exclusively housed on one floor. Third-year Tuftsian Elizabeth Woo agreed about the structure. “I’m going to miss the lobby culture because Tufts basically owns the first floor, but that’s mostly because our lounge is quite tiny. But moving into North we’ll have a lounge that’s so much bigger. I feel in that sense we’re gaining more organization.”
Some houses were always destined to move, because their “home” was not meant to be a home. A former hotel, New Graduate Hall wasn’t initially meant to be an undergraduate dorm. Built in 1962 and opened to undergraduates in 2011, New Grad has only hosted college students for five years, harboring the Pierce orphans Tufts and Henderson on the first two floors and Midway House on the third. Many acknowledged that, for New Grad, the question was never if, but when, the houses would be moving.
“New Grad is a bastard dorm, it’s runoff from Pierce being torn down, it’s just the inevitable—they knew something was going to come up like North. Even the name Midway is a placeholder. We don’t have a donor, it was a hotel, a very transient place to be,” said Midway first-year Pau Oliveres.
Despite the transience of the New Grad houses, many of the well-loved customs from Pierce, plus some new traditions, have flourished.
Competition is rampant in New Grad. Chalk it up to Sports Frolic, the annual Olympiad of sports tradition carried over from the Pierce houses, now fought between the houses in I-House and New Grad. Tufts has long held the banner for most wins in Sports Frolic and is number one in humility.
Kaisa: Definitely everyone knows who we are. I really like it.
Elizabeth: We make sure they know us.
Naomi: Sometimes when I tell people I’m from Tufts, they say, “Oh yeah you guys are the assholes.”
Elizabeth: Yes, it’s quite synonymous.
Tufts House derives its superiority complex mainly from its successes in Intramural (IM) sports and Sports Frolic. They attend their RH’s breadmaking classes and roast their associates at the annual Correspondent’s Dinner—think White House Correspondent’s dinner but juvenile. Funding this propensity for activity is Tufts House’s trademark rights to the world famous “Where Fun Comes to Die” T-shirts, sales of which make Tufts House one of the wealthiest houses on campus.
As a resident who has lived through the full “Tufts in New Grad” iteration of the house, Woo had positive words about her house. “Tufts is housing culture at its finest. [My experience in Tufts] speaks to what kind of foundation a good house can bring to someone’s life.” As the impending new RA of Stony Island, Woo will be paid to believe Stony is the best starting in the fall.
Tufts RA Mark Saddler explained that losing the Tufts name will also precipitate the loss of its recognition as a uniquely polarizing force. “We have a house with a name. I’m not sure you get that in any non-satellite dorm […] When I think of Max houses I say “Max hous1es,” I say it like that, I don’t name a particular one. There’s going to be a lot of people who don’t know what living in Tufts means—it meant a lot to have this reputation.”
The set-up of New Grad is very conducive to gossip and good cheer. And besides the jawing back and forth between Tufts and its neighbors Henderson and Midway, there is plenty to observe.
Calvin: You can tell how serious relationships are by what set of stairs people take people up by. If someone is bringing someone up by that set of stairs, it’s not that serious/this is a one-time thing.
Brock: Or they want it to be serious and they don’t want the house ruining it.
Danielle: But if they come up those stairs then you know it’s serious.
While the houses generally exude trust and closeness, when Valentine’s Day approaches, things get weird in Midway with the annual game of Secret Stalker. Explained first-year Aubrey Christofersen, “Secret stalker! It’s during Valentine’s Day and instead of being all mushy gushy, you stalk somebody. If you look right down that wall, I made a blow-up of poster of [fellow resident] Wyatt Bland.”
One thing is indisputably true: Henderson has the most elaborate of birthday celebrations on campus. As second-year Danielle Polin explained, “Birthdays are a very complicated ritual. At the midnight that your birthday begins the entire house begins looking for you to force you into your own shower, fully clothed, and we sing happy birthday. Once we’re done singing happy birthday we are usually running from you while you’re fully wet and chasing us. We meet back in the fishbowl, and your roommate gets the honor of pie-ing you while we all sing happy birthday a second time.”
With over a year to process the move and the pending changes to their house, many residents of Maclean have come to terms with moving to North with the New Grad houses. Said Iskandarani, “I think people are pretty stoked even though they’re pretty sad. People like New Grad. They seem to have a strong IM culture, which is what we are trying to maintain because Maclean is really big on IMs.” Melissa Li agreed, “When we had the blueprints for the housing lottery, people were looking at them and going like, oh, we could do this here, here’s a cool place to have a hangout. And so now that they can kind of picture what we’re going to be going into, it’s easier to be excited.”
Husain put it succinctly: “By building the megadorm we’re just becoming like other schools. And there’s benefits and huge tradeoffs to that.”
Ellie: They only say positive things about the new building—which makes sense, because they want donors to donate—but it’s also a complete slap in the face to all these house traditions that University totes and pride themselves on all these great house traditions that we have.
To honor the moving houses, the Housing Office has given each house $10,000 to be spent in the spring and fall of 2016. These “Funeral Funds,” or the multitude of other monikers houses have adopted, expire in December and proposals for spending money must be approved by Housing. So what would a bunch of 19- and 20-somethings do with this $90,000?
Apparel and accessories are a definite theme amongst the houses. Said Saddler, “We’re getting these pretty sick tear-away pants… They’re going to say Tufts. You can make some sort of parallel with that: ‘Peeling away the old name.’” Staying true to form, Maclean upgraded their IM uniforms. Said Melissa Li, “We purchased IM jerseys. They say Maclean and have a direwolf and a lightning bolt.”
House parties and fun outings were also central expenses. Midway house is throwing a New Grad formal (with a signature Midway hallway after-party) with their “North money.” Henderson hosted a catered associate dinner and bequeathed their guests with customized house goblets. While Tufts is paintballing, both Henderson and Wick House are spending their “sunset funds” on a Lake Michigan cruise. Breckinridge is having an end-of-year party with a cake shaped like Breckinridge.
Other houses, like Blackstone and Palmer, invested their so-called “blood money” on home furnishings for Campus North, starting with a gaming system. Palmer House, according to Sundram, hosted an all-night movie marathon, and has purchased a chocolate fountain, speakers, and waffle maker for their new house kitchen. “I wanted to buy a real wombat…. Just for context, the wombat is the Henderson house mascot,” Husain said.
Many houses ultimately spent their money on what matters the most: enhancing their house traditions. Maclean is doubling its food spread for Norman Maclean Day. For Breckinridge this year, the quarterly parade to sunrise at the Point, Funrise, came with a warm-cooked meal.
For Breckinridge and others, the directions for spending their “hush money” were far from clear, at times even conflicting. Said Porath, “We proposed a lot of ideas to housing and they shot them all down. We were like, ‘Let’s amp up our old traditions with this’ and Housing was like, ‘No, it has to be new.’ Then we’re like, ‘Oh, okay, let’s have this new tradition!’ and they’re like, ‘No, it has to be old.’” RAs of Palmer and Henderson, Sundram and fourth-year Brock Huebner, also noted similar confusion over the instructions.
For some, the blood money is just an empty appeasement. It can’t make up for the lost traditions and space, or for a process that excluded student input and demonstrates Housing’s disconnect with what students actually care about. “We did originally want to donate it because we were salty,” Breck first-year Monica Brown said. “I feel so neglected,” Mearsheimer said.
The University did take input from residents of satellite dorms via the Special College Housing Advisory Committee (SHAC).
“Housing decisions incorporate student input and perspectives through a number of channels, particularly the Inter-House Council (IHC) and Special College Housing Advisory Committee (SHAC). The SHAC is comprised of one student representative from each of the nine houses affected by the decommissioning as well as two Resident Heads,” said university spokesperson Marielle Sainvilus.
Adam Gruenbaum, the second-year SHAC representative from Talbot, described his role as a “communication liaison from Housing.” He applied to be his house’s SHAC representative in spring 2015. Since then, one of the most stressful parts of the experience for him has been the 250-word essays SHAC representatives wrote to apply for the one-house asylum slot in I-House, which was immune to a name change.
“It’s somewhat of a two-way street,” Gruenbaum reflected on his experience in SHAC. “We were able to provide a little bit of feedback. Housing occasionally gets a bad rep of being too autonomous and bureaucratic. I think there are some people who actually care about our happiness. They have our best interests. They’ve just felt that listening to current students isn’t necessarily the best for the future of housing.”
The justification for University policy is the idea that the future of housing is in strengthening the Resident Master model and housing more College students closer to campus, according to Marielle Sainvilus.
However, Porath maintains, “Housing has not been at all sensitive to residents’ feelings about the move. They simply tell residents what’s happening and then they deal with the aftermath.” “Definitely people felt marginalized during the process,” Naomi Sweeting, a first-year from Tufts, said.
Alex: One thing that we do at the end of O-Week, after our long-ass house meeting that we all go through, we get inducted—
Alex: Knighted into the house…with a kitchen spatula. Our RH calls us each by name and hands us a black stone with our name on it.
Tom: I was very upset when my name rubbed off….
Julia: My stone is on my windowsill so my name doesn’t rub off.
Alex: After we get our black stone we kneel before [the house president] and he knights us into the culture of the house of Blackstone.
Ben: I liked induction because it let me know straight from the get go that we’re all awkward but on pretty equal levels.
This spring, the University of Chicago will celebrate its 527th Convocation. Change is inevitable, especially on a college campus. O-Week 2016 will now begin on a Saturday, a day earlier than before, and seven dorms and 38 houses will welcome incoming students: Burton-Judson Courts, Campus North, Max Palevsky, Renee Granville-Grossman, Snell-Hitchcock, Stony Island, and I-House.
For better or for worse, Campus North is the new reality, and the vision of University housing will continue to shape student experience in profound ways. A whole new class of first-year students—new members of the University of Chicago—will be inducted this coming fall, experiencing the new chapter of Housing’s history firsthand. What they won’t experience is what has been lost.