Commentary

Non-Sibi Exchange: Is Freshman Housing a Good Idea?

YES

Keely Aouga

When I look back at my freshman year, the thing I miss the most is my dorm, Nathan Hale. Nathan Hale is an all freshman girls’ dorm in the cluster Pine Knoll—one of Andover’s five small neighborhoods on campus. Hale was home to 41 other amazing girls, including five wonderful upper prefects and four great house counselors. We laughed, danced, sang, took out the trash together and loved one another, and I will always be grateful to have lived with girls who were, like me, scared and confused upon arrival at Andover, but grew excited to attend the school as our freshman year progressed.

It was not until recently, a few months into my lower year, that I realized how much I miss Hale. I am currently in Day Hall, a dorm with girls ranging from lowers to postgraduates. While I love my dorm, I miss the ability to walk through every hall knowing that everyone was experiencing their “firsts” at school, whether it be their first 6, Andover history paper or sampling of a new food. Had it not been for the “firsts” we shared together, I would not have made the friends that I have. Being surrounded by people in my grade was very important to me. These were the people with whom I would be spending my high school years. Even though we were not always in the same classes together, living together was a great opportunity to meet more people. All-freshman housing is more beneficial to freshman compared to mixed or all-grade housing.

As a new student, it can sometimes be intimidating to meet new people, especially upperclassmen, and being around people who were new like me was comforting. I remember my first day entering Nathan Hale. A group of girls in the dorm all met in what would be my neighbor’s room. We all sat together and introduced ourselves and talked about how excited and nervous we were. In that very moment, I knew that I wasn’t alone, and over the course of a year, they made me feel at home and ready to leave them to enter the world of mixed-grade housing. As someone who only feels comfortable speaking to a handful of upperclassmen, it was relieving for me to come back to a dorm with people in my grade, people who I would have the chance to grow closer to over the next four years and who would become part of my Andover family.

I honestly do not think that I would know as many people as I do now, had it not been for all-freshman dorms. Last year I made it my mission to know everyone in my grade by face, and at least their first name. By the end of my freshman year, I was close to my goal and I was able to recognize about 80 percent of my grade by name because of my constant exposure to the people in my class. Though that has changed slightly, as I am not surrounded by as many people in my class, it has taught me the value of knowing my class and reaching out. As a lower, I am grateful that I had a year to learn and explore with people experiencing their “firsts.” In fact, it has allowed me to shape my lower year differently.

I am no longer new to the way school works, and while I am still experiencing “firsts,” this is my time to focus more on what I am interested in and branch out to other grades. I love the people I have met, but I especially love the opportunity to get to know the people that will be with me to the very end. To this day, my friends and I still remember and associate people with their dorms freshman year, and I find us all guessing which dorms new students in our grade would’ve been part of. The dynamics within each dorm and the relationships they have formed are parts of our Andover experience that will stick with us forever. While we are now somewhat separated by classes, dorms, friend groups and sports, among other things, we are all united through Nathan Hale, Rockwell, French House, Double Brick, Smith House, Isham, Bertha Bailey and America House, the dorms that started it all.

Keely Aouga is a two-year Lower from Newark, N.J.

 

NO 

Mark Blekherman

New teaching methods. More homework. New campus. More classmates. A freshman comes into Exeter with open eyes and a naïve smile. Some arrive with no understanding of American culture, and others arrive having lived in the United States their whole life. Some enjoy playing soccer, and others enjoy competing in math. Some hail from academically rigorous background, and others hail from schools with limited opportunities. But they all share one characteristic: a general confusion, a feeling compounded by large campus size and the overwhelming amount of clubs, classes, and students. Placing new students into designated dorms serves as an incubator for this confusion and allows for the formation of social cliques and posses. The result is a stratified and disjointed school community where older students feel no connection to younger students.

As a lower at Exeter, I share some of my strongest friendships not only with my peers, but also with uppers and seniors. It was an upperclassman who first brought me to The Exonian’s writers’ meetings. It was a group of upperclassman who showed me around Exeter’s town and recommended places to eat, and it was a kind upperclassman who taught me how to write a proper English narrative. It was a senior proctor who gave me a tour of Exeter’s campus and helped me unpack my luggage at the beginning of the year. An Exeter dorm gives incoming students the opportunity to discover more about the school. There is only so much that an overwhelmed and anxious prep can tell you, but there is much wisdom that a senior can impart in a 14-year-old.

A freshman dorm creates an environment in which toxic prep posses can flourish. Isolated from the greater school community, preps turn to exclusive cliques and affinity groups that condone rather than alleviate their discomfort. With a diverse dorm community, a prep feels supported not only from his peers, but also from students in other grades. The necessity for posses disappears as preps find guidance and genuine advice from upperclassmen. Preps are no longer constrained to talking with their classmates or their closest dorm-mates. They are less afraid to approach and sit with an unfamiliar student at dining hall and more likely to attend clubs. By packing freshmen into their separate dorms, we are sending them a clear message: that they are not mature enough to be part of the community, that they should stick to themselves.

All-grade housing does not just help struggling lowerclassmen but also allows for upperclassmen to leave an indelible impact on the community. In addition to assisting preps with their assimilation to the school’s culture, the upperclassmen serve as role models as the lowerclassmen mature over the course of the year. New students are not always comfortable taking risks or exploring their interests. Their passions need a lighter that could ignite and hone their curiosity. Living with upperclassmen, freshmen realize that indeed there are members of the community that share their passions and sympathize with their goals and aspirations. Although Exeter and Andover selects ambitious and motivated teens, these teens’ imaginations cannot be aroused if they do not intermingle with students who are older and, yes, better than them.

Exeter is committed to softening the transition from middle school to Exeter. We have pass-fail to allow preps to adjust the academic atmosphere. We have Student Listeners that provide preps with emotional support during times of stress. But more importantly, we have an integrated dorm community that creates a sense of continuity from one generation of Exeter students to the next.

Mark Blekherman is a two-year Lower at Phillips Exeter Academy.

Apr 29, 2017