Theme residence halls break barriers, bring controversy

In a groundbreaking new approach to residence life, Geneseo plans to introduce two "residential college houses" that will aim to bring together student life and academic affairs. Not everyone, however, thinks all aspects of the plan are wise.

The Dante House - operating from Wayne Hall - will house international students, incoming Honors Program students, and 30 other first-year students on a first-come-first-served basis next year. Emphasis will be placed on global service.

Once Seneca Hall is completed, it will be home to the "writer's house," open to those interested in any form of writing.

Dean of Residential Living Celia Easton said that students living in the houses will be "part of a community" and will "have an opportunity to take part in some of the specialized goals of the faculty."

These students will also have the option of going to house dinners and attending special speakers and events designed with the community's goals in mind. The writer's house will even have a special area where classes can be held.

In both houses, selected faculty will pledge to spend time in the house and foster appropriate learning activities.

Although the Dante House will accommodate only first-year students, the writer's house will open its doors to students of all years and majors, and those accepted into the house as underclassmen will be invited to live there throughout their time at Geneseo. As of March 31, 20 of the 30 open spots in the Dante House had been filled by accepted incoming students.

If Seneca Hall is completed by the beginning of 2009 as planned, all students will be able to apply to the writer's house at that time.

Honors Program controversy

The fact that incoming freshmen admitted to the college Honors Program will automatically be assigned to the Dante House has drawn some opposition from current honors students who argue that isolating the freshmen will fundamentally change the nature of program.

In a meeting on March 28 to discuss the issue, current honors students said that they fear that siphoning all incoming honors students into a single floor will lead to the perception among both honors and non-honors students that the program is a sort of "ivory tower" of the college.

They also questioned the ability of honors students to contribute to the college community in a meaningful way if they perceive themselves to be a distinct subunit of that community. Students said a sense of community among honors students is already facilitated by honors gatherings and events each semester and the fact that many of these students will take designated honors classes together.

"Living in Jones [Hall] has made me realize not only that exclusive housing would be terribly boring, but that I would have missed out on a lot of experiences that have helped make my college experience a good one," said freshman member Kevin Palmowski.

Freshman Erica Mocher, also a member, agreed.

"I don't think the Dante House is in itself a bad idea, but I think they're executing it incorrectly," she said. "It should be optional...that way people who are into the idea can live there and contribute to the atmosphere the house is being designed for."

Professors Olympia Nicodemi and Ronald Herzman, the co-directors of the program, were not directly involved in the creation of the house. Herzman said that he is open to implementing the program in different ways, and that "nobody can tell in advance what the optimum way of doing it is."

The program is designed to annually admit ten sophomores in addition to the thirty freshmen who will live in Dante House. Opponents of the mandated housing requirement point out that sophomores entering the program will find it harder to actively participate in the program. Herzman admitted that this is "something we need to consider the implications of."

Easton said that this past fall, about two-thirds of incoming honors students were placed in triples and that reserving spaces in the Dante House was one way of guaranteeing doubles. Although honors students receive a merit scholarship and priority registration their first semester of freshman year, Easton said it is still "not as generous a program as we'd like it to be." She also said that the college has occasionally used honors students as a sort of pilot group for new ideas. For example, this fall, honors students will have the option of taking a Non-Western Humanities course that some in the college community have been calling for.

Residence Life is currently doing research for a potential third residential college house that would focus on ecology, sustainability and the "green" lifestyle. Easton acknowledged that some students will object to the idea of integrating academics and residential life, but noted that the houses will not become a defining feature of the college at any time in the near future.