Administrators and NGBs weigh in on cluster system

This fall marks the beginning of neighborhood housing’s third year of existence on campus. From a more mature perspective has come a general sentiment that much progress still needs to be made to achieve the goals that were set forth for cluster housing.

“I see a number of changes that we have to continue to make to fully realize the original vision [of the cluster system],” President Schapiro said.
When the neighborhood system was proposed in February 2005 by the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL), its aim was to rebuild the close-knit housing system. To do this, the CUL envisioned clusters pursuing two goals.

First, neighborhoods were to provide students with social opportunities to feel an attachment to their assigned residential community and upperclassmen. “The hope was that a new housing system could create social connections that cut across other interest groups,” said Will Dudley, professor of philosophy and chair of the CUL at the time of the proposal’s writing.

To some, Neighborhood Governance Boards (NGBs) have been effective in facilitating inter-cluster connections. “I think that bigger chunks of people are feeling neighborhood affiliation,” said Peter Nurnberg ’09, co-President of College Council. NGBs have initiated and are now revamping the Cluster Cup, a friendly rivalry between clusters. New events are also regularly being proposed and planned. Emily Behrman ’09, president of the Dodd NGB, mentioned initiatives ranging from party-planning to community engagement projects.

However, Dean Merrill noted that cluster leaders should not get complacent in their efforts to achieve inter-cluster bonding. “There is a lot more creative thinking that can be done around programming for neighborhoods so they become an entity that students identify with,” she said.

In addition to more social engineering, NGBs need to find a better way to incorporate first-years – whose social lives usually revolve around their entries – into the cluster system, according to Merrill. First-year participation in cluster life is key to developing neighborhood identity early on.

According to NGB president Joya Sonnefeldt ’10, “freshmen are becoming more receptive [to clusters] every year.” Several Junior Advisors organized screw dances with other entries in their neighborhoods, allowing first-years to meet the people with whom they will be able to live next year. “If people outside the governance boards are seeing neighborhoods as a tie, that is a sign of change,” she added.

The second goal of the original cluster system proposal was to provide a mechanism to encourage and reinvigorate student-faculty interactions. Currently, each member of the faculty is affiliated with a cluster. There also exists a faculty associate per cluster who serves as a liaison between NGBs and faculty to create more opportunities for students to meet professors in an informal setting.

Involving the faculty in cluster life has been an uphill battle. Many faculty members are unaware that they are assigned to clusters, something NGB leaders are trying to remedy. Behrman plans to have special events in the Dodd cluster during which faculty would share activities they enjoy with small groups of students.

The extent to which faculty members have been involved in clusters in the past two years has been participation in large neighborhood dinners – environments where one-on-one student-to-faculty interactions are hard to come by.

Doug Schiazza, director of Campus Life mentioned this lack of interaction as one of his biggest concerns afflicting the cluster system. He also cited inequitable housing across the neighborhoods.

Dudley charged student leaders to pursue the goals of the original CUL proposal, but urged them to be flexible. “What we expected and what is the case is that things would get launched by students. Some things would work, some things wouldn’t, and things would be changed,” he said.

Although campus leaders and administrators have been informally evaluating the cluster system, there are no plans for a formal evaluation of the cluster system until next year. “I don’t see us doing a formal review of the cluster system until the end of its fourth year,” Dean Merrill said. Students involved in various capacities with the system expressed similar sentiments. “In terms of an evaluation, I think it’s almost still too early to evaluate the system,” Behrman said. Even without a formal evaluation, however, the neighborhoods are regularly being assessed in terms of the original goals set for the housing system.

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