Special Interest Housing Deserves to be a Priority
The first time I stepped into the Feminist Collective was also the first time I felt at home on campus. I could feel the history of the students who had lived there, and the legacy that was now my responsibility. Something about the disheveled bookcases and well worn sofa chairs felt familiar, even though I was just moving in.
Within the next two years, the house and club became my little corner of the world. It was there that I met the people who would become my closest friends and biggest fans, and it was there that I found the space and safety to become the person I am today. Maybe that sounds a bit too sentimental, but I honestly can’t think of another way to stress the importance of special interest housing on campus.
It’s no secret that most housing options at Beloit are lacking in some way. While that old-house charm is characterizing most of the time, the special interest houses take it to a new level. It feels like there is almost a constant battle between the Office of Residential Life, or ResLife, and students trying to keep their beloved houses open. In the past two years several houses have either been shut down or moved to dorm style buildings, which, in my opinion, changes everything. The main appeal of my house is that I don’t have to live in a dorm. I get more living space, and to share that space with only a handful of other people.
Dorm buildings just can’t compete with the history each house has. For example, The Feminist Collective has lived in the same house in some capacity since 1975. That’s over forty-five years of memory living in that space. We constantly find old photos or video tapes of the students who came decades before us and there’s nothing more special than that, and a freshly painted dorm floor could never compete with that kind of legacy. In fact, it shouldn’t have to. That legacy is something that makes Beloit stand out, and it should be preserved at any available cost.
To find out more, I talked to Juliette Schmidt’22, an Office and Residential Assistant in the Office of Residential Life, and oversees housing for Music House, BSU, Spanish House, and The Feminist Collective. Schmidt first grew concerned in May of 2020, when Music house, where she resides, was given notice that they would not be able to open the following year. While they were able to open for the 2020-21 school year, the current executive board has now found itself in a similar situation. Music House has not received any official notification yet, But Ryan Schamp, Director of Residential Life has confirmed that closing it has been in discussion among the Residential Spaces Improvement Committee, although no final decisions have been made.
Schmidt is worried for the future of special interest housing, and so am I. Schamp said in an interview conducted via email that specialty houses are an “integral part of Beloit College” and “They are intended to be representative of the diverse and inclusive culture of the college”, but actions speak otherwise. When administration closes houses rather than devote time and resources to taking care of them, it shows students that the spaces we value most are not a priority to them.
Both Schmidt and Schamp were asked about facility upkeep in specialty housing, and I was given two very different answers. According to Schmidt, “houses have been neglected for years”. Based on conversations she has had directly with Ryan Schamp, she does not feel that these spaces are valued as much as they should be.
Schamp claims that there has been work done on houses and spaces over the years, though he only described the work that has been done to Brannon hall and 609 Emerson Hall, but I was still left wondering when the last time a special interest house had been updated.
Schmidt sees a larger issue at play here, the shifting campus culture prioritizing STEM and athletic programming. While both of those things are respectively important to campus, this historically has not been the case. We’ve seen that the college is more than capable of raising funds to put into these programs, and even the Powerhouse, but schamp says this avenue has been explored with “limited success”.
Students come to Beloit because it’s weird. Special interest housing is integral to that Beloit specific brand of weird, the type we all love but never seem to have the right words to describe. As a prospective student, it was one of the things that made Beloit stand out in a sea of bland tiny colleges, and I’m sure this is a similar experience for many current and prospective students alike.
Schmidt brings a possible larger issue to light here. In some capacity we’ve all noticed what she’s talking about. The Buc Vs. Turtle culture is a reigning divide, and has been for many years. The college and benefactors pour money into projects like the Powerhouse, when it benefits mostly athletic students, but what does “limited success” mean? Alumni have ties to these buildings, and I’m sure many would give what they can to maintain them, so I don’t understand what the holdup is.