Many people join social houses in search of a tight-knit community, to have a place on campus where they know they belong. Non-members also partake in the social house scene—the parties are organized, generally safe, and have large, open spaces to dance and socialize.
While the college theoretically supports social houses, many social house leaders report feeling stifled by administrative fiat. The set of rules for hosting events and for general management of social houses is ever-expanding, and full compliance is becoming increasingly unfeasible. Furthermore, recent administrative crackdowns communicated primarily through intimidating emails and misplaced hostility from public safety officers have created a precarious situation. With more rules to follow, more liability to fear, more uncomfortable confrontations, incentive to organize and throw social house events is dwindling.
Social houses, which are primarily different from super blocks in that they have a new member recruitment process, include the Mill, Delta (Prescott House/ADP), KDR, Tavern (Omega Alpha) and Xenia. In title, they are distinguished from super blocks such as Palmer, Brooker, Munford and Meeker, but all these on-campus houses abide by a similar set of rules and experience similar frustrations centered primarily on the process of hosting (and registering) events.
Most of us have visited an on-campus house—danced in the basement, cooked a meal in the communal kitchen, chilled on the living room couches—but how many of us know what it takes to actually keep these spaces alive? Leading members have to manage a budget, perfect the housing roster, plan and host events and clean up afterwards. Then, as Delta knows all too well, they must face the repercussions of any failures along the way.
It would be boring to go through the details of what goes into administering a social house, but it would be helpful to note some aspects of the process, if not to stir up a little appreciation, then to at least give substance to the conversation. Social house leadership is responsible for:
- Communicating with the college administration. This can be infuriating due to their limited accessibility and reliance on a fragmented and difficult to navigate bureaucracy.
- Balancing the budget. This often involves fronting cash and waiting approximately three weeks for a reimbursement to be issued—or more if the electronic version of the voucher gets lost in cyberspace.
- Assuming liability. Technically, the social house’s treasurer or the party host assumes liability, but practically liability is shared among the membership—this includes dorm damage—even, as has been suggested in Delta’s pending case, if the damage is done by non-members or alumni.
- Registering parties. This is an extremely demanding process, likely to result in punishment from public safety and the college administration equal to (and sometimes exceeding) that which would result from throwing an unregistered party.
- Attending meetings with the Inter-house Council. This involves assessment of penalty points accrued as a result of violations during parties, such as alcohol citations, noise complaints or failure to fulfill any of the numerous responsibilities of hosting a party. With a certain number of penalty points (an unreasonably small number in the opinion of many social house leaders), the house is placed on probation and prohibited from throwing additional parties for an amount of time that increases with each probation period.
- Pressuring members to comply with new college policies… that require at least 80% of the current membership (and 100% of new membership) to complete an online hazing training module and sign an anti-hazing pledge. Additionally, 100% of current membership must complete an online sexual assault training.
These are some of the key bureaucratic elements of running a social house, some more difficult than others to fulfill. Of course the social house system couldn’t function with some amount of regulation, but has the administration become too demanding? Too disconnected from students’ desire to create their own social atmosphere?
Whatever pride and contentment the house’s leaders may have once gained from their ability to throw a successful event or to positively shape Middlebury’s overall social scene has largely given way to dissatisfaction and frustration. These “leaders” are made into passive regulators of college policy, deprived of autonomy and underappreciated by the administration for doing what the college so desperately needs—to maintain a healthy social outlet for all the self-discipline and mental labor of the work week that inevitably ricochets during the weekends in either destructive or constructive manifestations.
When the efforts of the social house’s leadership is met with authoritarian responses of punishment and dismissal, it is compelled either to disappoint its membership by not hosting events or to enforce top-down mandates which the membership does not understand or is incapable or unwilling to comply with. Not only is the strict regulatory role unfortunate for social house leaders to perform, it creates tension between them and the rest of the membership. General members become withdrawn and less participatory, leaving all the hard work that goes into throwing parties and hosting events up to a few overburdened individuals.
Clearly there’s a paradox. Interests may be aligned—after all, the college administration continually asserts that they’re “on our side,” that they want to see social houses thrive—but poor communication, untenable bureaucracies, and a top-down decision process places the social house system in jeopardy.
Jared Smith ’13 is the treasurer of the Mill
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