College: The New High School?

*The Draw incentivizes small, homogenous cliques.*Here’s one solution: switch to the residential college system used by Harvard and Yale.

I’ve often said that college feels more like high school than high school ever did.

Not sure what I mean? Take a moment to reflect on the social scene at Stanford:

We’ve got our jocks, of course – the Cardinal’s student athletes, identifiable by their grey and red sweats and their strange hours. Then there’s the Queen Bees (insert the sorority *du jour *here), the drama crowd (I see you, Gaieties cast), the newspaper junkies, the computer geeks, the band kids, and the stoners.

Really, the parallels to the cafeteria in a teen movie are frightening.

This being college, we’ve added a few more cliques to the mix – pre-meds, for example – and most of us identify with more than one group and feel free to associate with many.

But think back to your freshman year. Did these social divisions exist? If they did, were they as clear-cut as they are now? And seniors: Who is it that you’ve kept in touch with over the years? How many of your once-closest friends have become friendly acquaintances?

As a freshman, I was told by every upperclassman that the year would be the best of my college experience, if not my life. I wasn’t disappointed. Classes were alright, I told my parents, and the palm trees are great, but it’s my hall in Roble that’s* amazing. *

As much as I love being a senior, I’d relive freshman year in a heartbeat if you gave me the chance. Why? Because at Stanford, the diversity and camaraderie of the freshman dorms is the exception to the rule – and for this, we have the Draw to blame.

After all, Stanford’s residential system incentivizes small, homogenous cliques. The Draw requires students to separate themselves into groups of no more than eight, and the largest groups are at the greatest disadvantage. Students are forced to choose between opting for the best housing available – at the risk of splitting up their group – or forgoing better housing to keep their group together.

While the variety of housing options here offers some advantages, it also encourages similar students to join the same residences. Everyone who’s been to Florence lives in Casa; the athletes opt for Suites and Mirrielees, and the hipsters head to Kairos. And though these houses may still be diverse, residents everywhere are typically reluctant to venture beyond insular Draw groups.

So how do we fix this? Well, here’s one solution: let’s switch to the residential college system used by Harvard and Yale.

Restructuring our current system wouldn’t be all that difficult. Designate the largest (and least desirable) residences – FloMo, Stern, Wilbur, FroSoCo and so on – as a series of freshman colleges. The next year, each college would move to a different dorm, keeping its membership intact. The Row would be set aside for seniors, with two to three neighboring houses given to each college.

(For example, you might live with your college in half of Wilbur the first year, Suites the second, Roble the third, and 717, Durand, and Slav Dom as seniors.)

Under this system, the diversity and camaraderie of freshman year would be extended to all four years. Students could still meet each other through classes, athletic teams, and community centers, but we would come home to the same three hundred familiar faces year after year.

These close-knit colleges would help foster deeper, more permanent friendships with a larger number, and more diverse group, of people. In addition, they would offer more supportive, open environments for Stanford students going through difficult times – students that in other circumstances might struggle in silence.  And “dead,” undesirable dorms like Mirrielees and Manz would be transformed into lively, welcoming homes.

This system would have at least two significant downsides: First, there would be fewer opportunities to interact with members of other classes. But again, students could continue to meet peers outside their residences, through Stanford’s many extra-curriculars.

Second, this system could result in the elimination of Greek houses, theme dorms, and co-ops. However, this could be avoided by building additional houses, or by converting houses that currently serve as offices – Drell, Owen, Bolivar, Rogers, and Mariposa – into residences.

Do I think this plan is flawless? Of course not. But is it something we should consider? Absolutely.

In the end, what makes Stanford an amazing place is its students: the athletes and the engineers, the frat boys and the* a cappella *stars – even the World of Warcraft addicts. And if we don’t get to live with all of them, we’re not taking advantage of all this place has to offer.

*Marissa Miller has served as Vice President of Chi Omega sorority and held various positions at The Stanford Daily, including Features Editor and Director of Staff Recruitment. *

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