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Getting out of the house

The house system is great—until it starts to stifle social life

First-years, you’re in luck: You’ve just moved into one of the most welcoming, supportive dorm systems imaginable. By subdividing each dorm into houses with their own distinct resident heads, resident assistants, and a mix of upperclassmen and first-years, the University has provided layers of oversight and encouragement that make it  nearly impossible to slip through the cracks. Starting afresh in college is an intimidating process—we’ve all been there. Trust us, we know—but the houses break the University down to an approachable scale and give you 20 or 30 friendly, recognizable faces before you even know Ratner from Regenstein.

If you prefer, of course, you can always tell your housemates “Thanks, but no thanks” and strike out on your own. Some people do, but most of us find our closest friends within our houses—and then we hang out with those friends in the house lounge, and on house trips, and at the house barbecue, and, naturally enough, during the house "Steve Harvey Show" mega-marathon.

Then again, that may sound like enough intra-house bonding to make a person go stir-crazy and start looking for some reason, any reason, to get out and go elsewhere. And it should. There are hundreds of first-years living in other houses with their own high school reminiscences to share and their own "Glee" DVD collections to lend out, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t meet them too. When the house system provides friends during the first few weeks, which could otherwise be a long, lonely time, that’s good. When it starts to insulate us from the rest of the student body and limit our experience of Chicago, that’s when the trouble starts.

There’s no reason the house system has to be limiting. RSOs, class discussions, sports games, and frat parties—to name only a few—all provide outlets to the wider world, and you should make time for all of them. There are as many interesting and equally awkward people outside your dorm as in it, and most of them are as new and nervous as you are. If you want to go to an Orientation event that your housemates aren’t interested in, don’t feel self-conscious about going alone. Try breaking away from the pack of housemates sometime during O-Week and attend some orientation events on your own. Once you get there, look for other people there by themselves. Here’s the secret they’re all trying not to let on: They don’t want to sit alone any more than you do, and they’d probably like it if someone came up and said, “Hi.”

The responsibility for pulling back the iron curtains between houses doesn’t rest solely on the first-years. RHs, RAs, O-Week leaders, and housing staff should realize that house life can be stale, stultifying, and even solitary for some, and should act accordingly. Make activities between houses a priority all year long. Why plan a trip to the AMC River East for one house when the houses next door can come along just as easily? Why not organize a regular lunch or dinner where students, dare it be said, actually eat at other house tables? And pick-up Frisbee on the Midway? Instead of pitting one house against another house, put a mix of house members on each team—nothing brings people together so fast as giving them a common adversary to crush.

At its best, college is an unsettling time. The Core won’t let you settle for one academic discipline and your professors won’t let you settle into one way of thinking. So don’t let yourself settle for only meeting the people in your house or on your hall—there’s too much fun to be had beyond the house lounge to do that.

—The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, the Viewpoints Editors, and one other Editorial Board member.

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