Two weeks ago, juniors anxiously waited at the co-op lottery to see whether their pick number would be high enough to secure a coveted senior year co-op house. Since off-campus housing options are so limited for Williams students, co-ops are appealing alternatives to the oft-loud, messy and impersonal on-campus dorms. But the random lottery process makes it difficult and frustrating to get a spot in a co-op as they currently exist at Williams. And, while they are considered superior living options, there is a reason people have so many complaints about them. For example, Raphael Menko ’12 argued in his Sept. 14, 2011 op-ed “Co-op compromises” that the College should give students more freedom and responsibility over their co-ops. Even if that were done, however, the Williams co-ops would still not be like co-ops at many other schools. In fact, the College’s co-ops really are not very different from dorms at all.
Co-ops, often called interest housing elsewhere, are popular living options of a very particular sort at our peer institutions and at larger universities across the nation. They are organized so that the students who live in these houses all share a common passion. These mutual interests range greatly – from academic areas like French or political science, to extracurricular areas like writing, activism and even health and fitness.
Language houses in particular would be an asset to student life at the College. Let’s face it: The Purple Valley is pretty spectacular. When it comes down to the decision of whether or not to go abroad, many juniors opt to stay here simply because they love the College’s classes and campus so much. For students of that sort who still want to gain greater experience and fluency in a language, a language house would be an ideal option for third-year living. Additionally, a language house would be a phenomenal place to live before going abroad in order to prepare for the rigors of an immersive program.
Importantly, the intensity of a language house can vary. At other colleges, the residents of language houses have differing levels of language requirements, ranging from only during dinner to all of the time spent in the house. A native speaker, normally hired by the respective language’s department, usually lives with the students in order to foster greater language skills as well as cultural learning.
Along with being hugely beneficial for the residents’ language ability, these houses can provide enriching opportunities for the rest of the campus. The house can hold language review sessions and host events to enrich campus life. For example, at Whitman in Walla Walla, Wash, each interest house is required to hold an event each week. Their French house, for example, hosts a French movie night every Saturday, with English subtitles so the whole campus can enjoy it. If you tell me you would not be interested in a monthly tapas dinner at the Spanish house, you are either lying or do not actually know what tapas are.
Interest houses do not need to be solely based upon language, though. Houses can be focused on other shared interests such as environmental sustainability, charity efforts or art. Being surrounded by people who are similarly concerned about certain issues fosters greater learning and inspires greater passion alike. The interest house experience allows students to pursue the things they care deeply about, but also provides them with wonderful real-life experience. Co-ops give students the chance to become more independent, cook food for each other, eat family-style dinners and forge strong relationships. Additionally, residents at some college interest houses are expected to assume a chore around the house each week, allowing for a smoother transition into off-campus housing. Interest houses also would greatly add to campus culture – providing hubs for student groups and spaces for events. It also provides a structure for networking between interest housing, ultimately leading to a rich and diverse array of activities available to students. The creation of an interest housing system would offer benefits for the students who live in the houses, in addition to the college community at large.
Eirann Cohen ’15 is from Thousand Oaks, Calif. She lives in Prospect.