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The Carletonian

Concerns Spur Changes to Interest House Petitions

< improve the application process for creating interest houses and for applying to live in interest houses, Residential Life formed the Interest Community Advisory Committee (ICAC), which has spent this year working to better define and evaluate current and potential interest houses as well as to standardize portions of the application for living in interest houses.

“We made these changes based on what students told us,” said Greta Simons, Area Director of Watson & East Side Houses. “We asked members of houses, current and past, to help us understand the system from their perspective.”

Based on student feedback, Residential Life created ICAC, which includes Simons and Patrick Gordon, Area Director Myers/Nourse, as well as a student representative from each interest house. A different student representative attends each meeting.

“We have worked throughout this year with a full committee of current interest house students to make these changes,” Simons said. “They are the students who have worked with our previous system and have been intricately involved in setting up a better process that reflects the true goals and accomplishments of our themed-living environments.”

In the fall, ICAC identified problems with the process for creating an interest house by talking to students who had gone through the process to create a house. It became clear from student feedback, that Residential Life was not accurately evaluating houses.

Until two years ago, each year, current and potential houses had to apply for interest house space. The application process included written statements and an interview that focused only on what the interest community planned to accomplish in the future and not on what the group had achieved in the past.

“We are working to create a process that reflects what a group has truly accomplished rather than relying on what is promised during an application and interview,” Simons said.

ICAC has had trouble solving this problem because each interest house is different, so it is hard to find a common evaluation method that accurately portrays each house.

According to Milana Socha’14, an ICAC representative from Fitness House, “We don’t want to confine interest houses because the beauty is that each house functions independently, but we do also need to find a way to assess interest houses.”

In addition, in the past, the number of spaces available on campus determined the number of interest houses rather than students’ desires dictating the number of houses. As a result, interest houses fought for spots and there were potentially more interest houses available than interest communities.

“We also want to be able to encourage new groups and new living ideas in order to better serve more students,” Simons said. “Finally, we are working to ensure these groups are connected across campus and within Residential Life to help meet mutual goals.”

To solve these two problems, for the past two years, there has not been a process to create interest houses. The interest houses have been the same for the past two years with the exception of adding CANOE back as a house last year. This allows Residential Life to focus on creating a new evaluation process for interest houses.

One way ICAC has tackled the evaluation problem is by potentially having interest houses begin each year with a charter that states what the community will accomplish during the year. ICAC’s plans to have these charters reviewed on a regular basis, but the timeframe has not yet been determined.

To address the space confines of current interest houses, ICAC is looking at ways to expand the definition of interest houses to include aspects of clubs and floor communities.

“In the past, a themed environment only existed as a house,” Simons said. “While houses will certainly still be a part of it, a group can certainly be successful in other living environments as well. We want to expand that to allow other students to get involved in other ways.”   

Similarly, Director of Residential Life Andrea Robinson said, “We want to get away from the idea of interest houses because if we only have 10 interest houses available, it makes it seem like we only have 10 interests, which is inaccurate.”

In addition to looking at the process for creating and maintaining interest houses, ICAC is examining the process for student applications to live in interest house.

After talking to students involved in the application process, ICAC made changes to the student interest house application for next year.
There is now a common timeline for interest houses. This means that applications for all houses are due on the same day, and students find out what houses they were accepted to at the same time.

Robinson said, “In the past, as a student applying to three houses which all had different application deadlines and acceptance times, it was very difficult. If a student was accepted to Fitness House, but his first choice was Culinary House and the Culinary House acceptances didn’t come out for a week, the student would have to decide whether to accept the Fitness House offer before learning whether he was accepted to Culinary House.”

The application is now online with a common section including demographic information every house wants to know and with links to specific questions for each house. Socha said that this standardization will make it easier for students who are applying to multiple houses.

ICAC has made two other changes that have improved communication between interest houses and students, according to Socha. One is the interest house fair in the winter. The other is the meeting last Sunday in which representatives from each interest house met to discuss who they had accepted to their houses. This meeting let interest houses know which of the applicants they accepted were likely to accept them, which makes it easier for interest houses to plan their space and house members for next year.

Rachel Johnson ’14, Culinary House Manager, appreciates the standardization of the interest house application because “last year, our top choices for house residents had applied to other houses, which had also accepted them. It was very hard for us when these students turned us down because they were well qualified and seemed like a great fit for Culinary House. Because they turned us down and we weren’t expecting it, we had to look at our applicants again.”

Going forward, Residential Life hopes to continue to improve the interest house system by having representatives from each interest house and from the student body in constant contact with Residential Life in order to bring forward problems and potential improvements, according to Robinson.

Based on ICAC and the changes that have been made to the interest houses thus far, Simons said it is clear that students and administrators “have been instrumental in identifying which pieces work for students, which one hinder success, and what adaptations could be more successful for everyone.”

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