Out of the dorms, beyond our values: The mal-effects of off-campus housing and its traditions

Most parties at the College feel like a reenactment of Groundhog Day. Same people. Same places. Same stories. I don’t drink any less than I used to when I was a freshman, yet on the weekends I have traded in drinking games on Hoxsey Street for games of Monopoly in my apartment. But this is not a witty satirical piece about the underwhelming party scene at the College. It’s about the off-campus housing climate and its pernicious influence on our community.

I was a member of the men’s hockey team my first three years on campus, and  most of my best friends are still on the team. Hockey always lived in Goff’s. This year, I live in Sushi Thai with a former teammate while eight other members of the team occupy all the available apartments in Goff’s. Sophomore year, the guys at Goff’s threw so many parties that, once our season started, strangers rolled in at 11:00 p.m. the night before our games expecting a party. We might go to a small school, but we were going to party like a “real” school. So, when the members of the team from the class of 2016 failed to secure upstairs Goff’s apartments and instead ended up in the much smaller Tony’s Sombrero apartment, they became the subject of ridicule because they had, from our perspective, let us down – as if there was some unwritten rule that Goff’s was ours.

Off-campus housing at the College pretty much goes to the same people every year. Goff’s is usually the hockey house. Meadow is usually football. The apartments above Blue Mango are by far the nicest of the bunch. They are not dominated by sports teams, but you (or your parents) have to be able to put down a hefty down-payment when you sign for it, on top of $3000 per month split between you and your roommate. 66 Hoxsey is the men’s soccer house, and 71 Hoxsey has been mostly guy’s lacrosse, although some people got upset last year when a group of women decided to live in 71 and throw off the school’s fragile party ecosystem. If this sounds a little appalling, unfair or atavistic to the days of fraternities at the College, that’s because it is. And here’s the kicker: you have to sign a lease for these places in either your freshman or early sophomore year.

The Record recently ran an article on off-campus housing at the College. (“A comprehensive guide to off-campus housing,” March 15, 2017). It gave the basic features of each house, how good the parties historically were on a scale of 1-10 and when you had to sign for the house. The Record reported that, for 14 of the 18 houses, you would need to sign a lease before junior year. Even this information is a little off, as I know that one of those four houses that was reported to allow you to sign junior year was unavailable for the 2018-19 year by this fall. Of the three remaining houses, none of them had a party rating above a 3 on the 10-point party scale.

This is certainly unfair and extremely harmful to our school community. Williamstown doesn’t have a good bar scene. The Purple Pub does not cater towards students, the Log can’t serve hard alcohol, and the Red Herring is essentially a glorified hallway. As the school’s alcohol policy has gotten a bit stricter over the years, there are fewer parties in the dorms. This leaves the off-campus houses controlled by athletes as the hub of the “going out” scene. While parties are not the only way to socialize here, such a homogenous group controlling all the potential party locations in a college is redolent of the effects fraternities have on the community. When one large group controls nearly all the spaces available for big parties, they become the privileged group.

The reason why athletes control the off-campus party scene is because of how early we have to sign for housing. If you are not on a sports team, chances are your friend group will shuffle a bit from freshman winter to senior fall. But for a lot of athletes, this isn’t always the case; their milieu stays pretty consistent and thus finding someone to sign a lease isn’t a problem.

Now, factor in the advisory role that older teammates provide their underclassmen about the ins and outs of the school, the fact that teams tend to have a bit of a collective drinking culture, and the high rent costs (keeping in mind that athletes at small elite liberal arts schools tend to be, according to a recent Amherst study, a bit more affluent than non-athletes). It all tastes like a recipe for an (often white) athlete-dominated social scene.Things have gotten so ridiculous in the off-campus housing scene that one student in the class of 2018 signed for all eight Goffs apartments back when they were a freshman. At that point, it might not be about monetary gain, but rather about being able to select who else is in the building. But, you shouldn’t have to propitiate a kid in your class because you want a place to live senior year. The status quo is firmly entrenched, and I don’t think it reflects values that the College wishes to have.

Gregory P. Zaffino ’17 is an economics major from Darien, Conn. He lives on Spring Street.