May 6, 2014

Student housing part III: Student experiences

In the final installment of the student housing series, the Maroon examines current students’ experiences in different forms of housing. Students in dorms, apartments, and fraternity houses reflect a broad array of living situations, making it impossible to generalize a typical experience in any setting. Many students, however, expressed an assumption that moving out of University housing at some point is the norm, challenging the community within the House system and developing communities beyond the bounds of residence halls.

House culture

Community begins for undergraduates in the House system, the launch pad of the first-year experience.

“When you’re new, it helps build up a friend group and it helps you explore more things,” first-year Mahmoud Aliamer said. Aliamer lives in Snell House. Despite expressing enthusiasm for House culture and the dorms, both Aliamer and another first-year, Davis Tsui, said they plan to move off-campus at some point.

“I just feel like moving off is part of the college experience, living by yourself and with your friends in an apartment that’s not run by the College, [you’ve] got to be independent and it just seems natural to move off third year,” Tsui said.

The view that moving off-campus third year is natural was echoed by multiple students living on- and off-campus. The high percentage of students in college housing in peer institutions, however, suggests this may be a distinctly UChicago trend.

RSO and legacy housing

Once students move out of campus housing, they retain the option to become a House associate and participate in House activities. However, many students choose to associate with other communities and organizations instead. Some RSOs share apartments, including the Ultimate Frisbee team and Off-Off Campus improv comedy group. Off-Off maintained an apartment from the early 1990s until two years ago, when the majority of the group moved elsewhere and a portion of the troupe moved into a different apartment in the same building.

Third-year Peter Herman lives in the new Off-Off apartment with two other roommates, one of whom is also in the group. Next year, three additional members of Off-Off will move into the apartment above Herman’s.

Herman described the distinctive decorations of the previous Off-Off residents of his apartment, who left things such as old Off-Off posters, furniture with carvings, Doc Films schedules from the 1980s, a VHS collection, and drawings of monsters in the apartments. The previous Off-Off tenants called the apartment the Hall of Jellyfish, creating Yelp and Facebook pages and adding it as a destination on Transloc.

“Part of the thing in living here is we had to make a decision, do we carry on what is essentially someone else’s inside joke or do we make our own thing?” he said. He and his roommates retired the Hall of Jellyfish, but continue to maintain the apartment with Off-Off’s sense of humor.

Greek life housing and culture

Fraternities have been intertwined with housing since their founding at the University in the early 1890s, and Greek life has expanded in recent years, adding a new sorority and several new fraternities, suggesting that more students are looking for more specific communities.

“With a sorority you generally join based on your personality matching with the sorority, whereas a House it’s a little more random, so in that it makes you in a group with people who share your interests more than perhaps in a House,” third-year Ellen Mulvihill, Delta Gamma president, said.

Sororities do not have houses at the University but have expanded on campus in recent years. Pi Beta Phi colonized a chapter last year, and formal recruitment was notably larger than before, according to Mulvihill.

Third-year Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) President Bryan Tisdale emphasized the importance of a house for his fraternity.

“You don’t move into it for the amenities, you definitely move in for the culture, the fun. I don’t think you get any closer to somebody than living with them,” he said, also noting that more members live in the house this year than in previous years.

Building alternate communities

Within off-campus apartments students find a variety of living situations. While many students live in three- or four-bedroom apartments, some other, more distinct options exist in Hyde Park.

Fourth-year Caitlin Grey, currently on extended enrollment, and third-year Lily Gordon live in an eight-bedroom apartment, which was previously the Off-Off Campus apartment, with six other roommates. Gordon has lived in the apartment for the past two years, but said that in the past year a more communal living style has developed, captured in the apartment’s joking nickname, the Faux-Op.

“I think the majority of people living here this year were excited about living more like a co-op, where we all chip in equally to purchase cleaning supplies, food for meals we eat together, but also to actually do cleaning, to invite each other to different events we know of,” Gordon said. The group meets approximately once a week, shares appliances, and buys spices and cleaning supplies communally, along with some other items.

“[It’s] really nice to come home and know there will always be people here, and it feels like, not like you belong here as opposed to somewhere else, but there’s a place that you come back.… I feel very much connected to here, because it’s like a home and a community,” Grey said.

Gaining independence

Many students living off-campus cited a desire for independence as a factor in their choice to leave University housing.

The desire for more independence may explain the assumption that students move off for their third year. Though some students move out of University housing for their second year and some remain for all four years, students interviewed almost universally expressed a desire for more independence than University housing provides.

“I like the fact I [am] not being babied anymore, and we have real problems to deal with. You take for granted just how much fun it can be to deal with stuff like those or how informative it can be. [It] makes you feel like an adult,” third-year Varun Suri said.

Many students do choose to stay on campus as upperclassmen, however. Third-year Nadia Alhadi said she continued to live in housing in Wick House in Broadview due to her apartment-like situation and enjoyment of House culture.

“I think there’s some surprise that I would have an interest in staying in housing,” she said. “It’s out of the ordinary, but once I explain my reasoning and the positives people understand.”

- Additional contributed reporting by Kelly Zhang

Editor’s Note: Sarah Manhardt is a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority.