OP-EDS

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October 2, 2009

The New Dorm: What’s in a name?

House names in SCRH leave much to be desired.

As I and quite a number of students return to the U of C and feel the warm embrace of the South Campus Residence Hall (SCRH) for the first time, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss. This feeling of loss does not concern the disappearance of private bathrooms in each room at the new dormitory, nor is it about the loss of consistently cold showers every morning. Instead, I merely regret the loss of the old house names once associated with the Shoreland.

To be fair, it’s not that big of a deal. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not the biggest concern in the world, nor is it even the biggest concern at the U of C. We should be more concerned about our ever-increasing tuition, our tenuous relationship with Hyde Park, or the fact that our endowment shrank by more than 25 percent last year. Still, the name changes bother me—especially since some of the names do not seem to be well thought out.

Of the eight new houses that were created in the SCRH, five of them are named after trustees and donors. While this percentage of houses paid for by donations seems admirable, especially in this economy, there are some questions that remain. In previous years, the administration had hinted that it would solicit naming donations for the new houses, yet all five names associated with the new dorm are of historic donors rather than explicit benefactors of the SCRH. It would seem, then, that the University had problems getting donations for the residence hall, raising the question about whether the new dorm—which came with a price tag of $165 million and went well over its budget, as major campus projects tend to do—was a sound financial investment to begin with.

More problematic is the naming of the three other houses. Rather than honor esteemed individuals in U of C history, the administration decided to name them after the Kenwood neighborhood, the old estate of Stephen A. Douglas, and a place at which our first president once taught. Rather than use the house names to pay tribute to outstanding alumni or people important to the University who have not donated money, the U of C decided instead to honor these locations.

All in all, it seems that the administration put almost no effort into the naming of the houses at the new dorm. This is a shame. The house system is part of what makes the U of C experience unique and enjoyable. House names are important because they are the University’s chance to show respect for the people who have made the U of C what it is. Furthermore, people identify with their house names, and it’s easier to identify with a name that has a direct connection to the University rather than a tangential one.

The University could have done something much simpler and better: It could have decided to keep some of the Shoreland house names. Which ones they would have picked would obviously have been a difficult question, since any choices would have disappointed those houses not chosen. It would, however, have kept some institutional history intact.

Still, I doubt that any of this will matter. Eventually everyone will get used to the new names and forget the old ones, discarding them in the same way the U of C discarded the Shoreland. For my part, Fallers House’s new name has begun to grow on me.

Alex Zhao is a second-year in the College.