This week Residential Life (ResLife) announced the approval of six new program houses for undergraduates opening in the fall of 2009. Program houses, which are something of a Wesleyan tradition, have not been updated in recent years despite repeated student requests. These additions to University housing are intended to create further specific community spaces that students and administration had felt were absent from campus.
“It really opens up new opportunities on campus and gives student new ways to live,” said Student Affairs Committee Chair Becky Weiss ’10. “It was an exciting process and great to get so much student interest.”
Of the seventeen applications received, Writing House and Full House (a food-themed house) were accepted for the available space on 202 Washington St., Interfaith House and Light House (a non-denominational Christian house) for 230 Washington St., Music House for 316 Washington St., and Farm House for 344 Washington St.
“We are really excited that there’s lots of energy and that we can expand program housing by this size,” said Director of ResLife Fran Koerting.
Koerting explained that the new houses were chosen based on three main criteria; the strength of the student proposal, what the house would add to the greater community, and what house events students plan to hold.
“A lot of them were really good,” Koerting said. “We were looking for ones that are different from ones in place and that would draw new students to program houses that don’t already exist.”
According to WSA President Mike Pernick ’10, new program houses were previously added only as replacements of older ones, a practice intended to preserve the majority of traditional housing spaces for General Room Selection. However, many of the houses on Washington had generally been the last to be placed during housing due to their de-centralized location. After continued student interest and faculty supported proposals to expand program housing options, the Undergraduate Residential Life Committee (URC) determined that these spaces on Washington St. would be the ideal location for houses intended to extend campus activity.
“I’m so excited about them,” said Pernick. “It’s phenomenal…we’ve been trying to do this for years now. It will make an even stronger community on the other side of Washington [Street].”
Smaller Program Houses used to be in place on 316 and 344 Washington St., but were vacated after Foss Hill renovations created space for Science and Film Hall in a more concentrated part of campus. These houses and the slightly larger houses on 202 and 230 Washington St. are currently used for undergraduate housing.
Davy Knittle ’11, one of the founders of Writing House, was very enthusiastic about the opportunity. He was inspired to apply for the house after working this year as a coordinator for the new freshman Writing Hall.
“We wanted the opportunity to have this option for the rest of the students,” said Knittle.
Knittle plans to hold open mic nights, poetry slams, writing workshops, and other writing outreach programs at the house. He stressed that it was an option for all types of writers from varying genres. Knittle also intends to continue the connection with Writing Hall, perhaps by having Writing House members serve as mentors for members of Writing Hall.
David Thompson ’11 of Music House intends for the house to be an open space and resource on campus for anyone interested in music.
“We were feeling that though this is an extremely musical campus, there is no place that is geared towards campus hangout space for students,” said Thompson.
“We were really grateful that we got the house,” said Nathaniel Leich ’12, another Music House organizer.
Thompson and Leich imagine Music House as a live event venue serving both music groups on campus and from the surrounding Middletown area. They also intend to hold lessons at Green Street, an arts and education center in Middletown, bring in experts on various musical fields, run clinics, and to establish the house as a center of collaboration between musicians.
Interfaith House was one of three religious and peace related proposals.
“I think that all three were wonderful,” said Rachel Berkowitz ’09, one of the Interfaith House founders. “We all had different mission statements.”
Berkowitz envisions Interfaith House as a space for people of different religions and faiths to meet and worship. Members plan to collaborate with the Interfaith Justice League and to organize interfaith retreats and festivals.
Yael Chanoff ’11 had hoped that her proposal for a Peace House would be passed.
“It would have really been great as there are a lot of people on campus working on similar issues… of peace and justice in the world,” said Chanoff.
The creators of Farm House, one of the approved proposals, plan for the house to be a place on campus to host discussions about food politics, hold farmers markets, and to collaborate with groups like Food Not Bombs.
“I work at Long Lane and we got the email that they were looking for houses,” said Amy Ketchum ’12. “We had always wanted a space, not that it is exclusive to Long Lane, but that would include all food politics issues.”
Overall, Ketchum was satisfied with the building.
“It’s a little far from the farm, but pretty much everything is,” she said. “People should look towards us at the open house and think about applying.”
Koerting described program houses as a special feature of University housing, unlike ‘theme housing’ offered by many other University and College campuses.
“Wesleyan is more unique in that we approach Program Housing as a focus on serving the whole University community,” Koerting said.
Each program house has a manager that also serves as a Reslife staffer. In addition to holding individual house programs, the members of the various program houses work together to plan collaborative projects.