Back off, administration! Tensions rise over the role of social houses on campus

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 CouncilThis 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

Feel free to comment below

  • RiFFRaFF

    preach, brother!

  • really?

    the cartoon above this post his horribly offensive. you may not like these people, but they make this school run. i would expect more class from a website trying to gain some credibility with the student body. grow up, middbeat.

    • the administration

      yes really.

    • Ldubs

      We have nothing personally against the staff members and administrators in the image and appreciate the hard work they do everyday, but we also figured our readers and the administrators and staff members themselves could take some humor and harmless irreverence in the spirit of the theme of the post. –middbeat editors

      • Ldubs

        And to be clear, Jared did not have anything to do with the image, the middbeat editors made it to supplement his writing.

    • dowhatchawanna

      Why is it offensive?

  • confuzzled

    The quotes above the photos only re-iterate comments that the administrators actually say (besides, maybe sup NYC? Even though Shirley basically says that all the time in with less nonchalance). They are vouching for more rules. They do ask for your ID. I’d say “disrespectful” is more accurately a sensitive reaction to “reality.”

  • Midd

    What this post is actually about is how hard it is to keep a space on campus in hands of an organization

  • is it really so impossible?

    I think that most of the process described above for keeping a social house safe makes sense. When one lives in a house, you take responsibility of its condition. It is your decision to throw or not to throw parties. I think that for the social houses it is VERY important to conclude a online hazing survey, considering that this will only help the members to define what is considered hazing and what not, making this area less grey that way. I do agree that the administration and staff has been unnecessarily hostile, and the service social houses give to the campus’ otherwise non-existent social scene is greatly underestimated.

  • Emily Rosenkrantz

    Please be careful. I was a social chair for one of these social houses, and while it is paramount to emphasize that social houses have become the only, THE ONLY, dependable and (in regards to over-intoxication) safe place for students to let off academic steam and dance the night away, it is also paramount to recognize the failings and dangers of the social house system. The same tight-knit, pledged-together mentality that creates a responsible safety net for the too-drunk student body whenever they party in our basement (as opposed to the ‘get your problems off my front lawn’ mentality of anonymous hosts at an Atwater suite) can also create a ‘law unto ourselves’, ‘bury individual sins for the safety of the group’ mentality reminiscent of fraternities. If we don’t recognize these inherent dangers, we will not be able to address them and, in doing so, save the social house system.

    Primarily, I’m referring to your assertion that the required Hazing and Sexual Assault trainings are an undue hardship. This is is lazy, reprehensible, and dangerous. Open your eyes. The Middlebury College community suffers from the malignancies of widespread sexual assault, near-omnipresent sexual coercion, and a student body that has excused all sexual misconduct with the phrase “hook-up culture.” Pick a person – let’s say a woman – any sexually active woman on campus, and ask her to read this pamphlet, particularly the sections on Verbal and Emotional Pressure: Then ask what percentage of her sexual experiences at Middlebury fall into this minefield, where she has been ‘convinced’ into participating in sexual experiences she didn’t really want.

    Sexual assault is not always rape. It’s not always what you see on Law & Order: SVU. It’s not always a girl violated while passed out, it’s not always a woman fighting and screaming, it’s not always a girl in the hospital with bruises, afraid to name her attacker. Overwhelmingly, especially at Middlebury, a victim of sexual assault takes the form of a perso (and I say ‘person’ to vehemently include the LGBTQ population) who allows social, emotional, psychological pressures from a partner to coerce him or her into agreeing. The college created the Hazing and Sexual Assault policies for a reason, even if you (and the majority of our oh-so-intelligent campus) may be blind to it.

    Fraternities were banned for a reason. If the social house system refuses to rise above the dangerous failings of the Greek system and take a determined stand against hazing, against alcohol abuse, and against sexual assault, then it will continue to require such oppressive administrative oversight. Wake up, Social Houses.

    And, Dear Shirley Collado: The social houses desperately need support in the form of regulation. What they most emphatically do not need is oppressive restrictions forcing their practices into the completely unregulated underground and engendering resentment and rebellion. Stop trying to slaughter the system, and instead try to salvage it. Teach love, not hate. Teach, instead of dictating. We are college students who struggle daily in class to open our minds to new, contradictory concepts. Just because we’re not in a classroom does not mean you, an educator, should give up on our education. If the Social Houses and Administration worked together to create informed partying and pledge policies, the entire climate of Middlebury College could be liberated. Consider treating us like misguided students instead of misbehaving citizens.

    • Jared Smith

      Emily, I definitely agree that sexual assault is no trivial issue and should absolutely be addressed in the context of social houses. My assertion was not that hazing and sexual assault training is unimportant, but that the immediate rather than gradual implementation of this policy created an unnecessary tension between the leadership and members. Because the entirety of the membership must complete these trainings before the pledge process can begin, we were forced to remove a significant number of people from our roster/email list (because for whatever reason, a bunch of people just didn’t get it done in time).

      We as leaders of social houses shouldn’t be the bad cops who make our members complete modules that give them impractical instructions on how to behave in those dangerous “groupthink” situations. If the school wants to make sexual assault and hazing awareness education a priority, they should make it an engaging and practical part of new student orientation. Sexual assault and hazing are not things that happen as a result of participation in social houses, they happen because we are embedded in cultures that implicitly approve of or at least fail to discourage this type of behavior. Of course, being involved in any social organization can bring out the destructive manifestations of these cultural norms, but ALL Middlebury students are part of social groups, whether officially defined or not. Sexual assault and hazing awareness education should be universally administered, not limited to members of social houses and sports teams.

  • Luke

    Can someone please explain why “wut up NYC” was used for Shirley’s quote? I am on the verge of being upset…