Princeton’s growing menu of housing options will become even longer in the fall, when Whitman and Mathey colleges will offer “collective-living” programs for students with shared interests in the arts and humanities and in community service. At the same time, all the residential colleges will offer gender-neutral housing to sophomores and upperclassmen.
“We are six years into the four-year college system,” said Rebecca Graves-Bayazitoglu, the dean of Whitman College. While freshmen will continue to be assigned randomly to a residential college, she said, “we were really looking at new ways to do things.”
Mathey’s proposal for an arts collective drew a large wave of interest, with more than 50 applications for 20 spots on the third floor of Edwards Hall. Kathleen Crown, Mathey College’s director of studies, said that 29 were accepted, with some students to be housed on Edwards’ fourth floor. Whitman received nine applications for its community-service collective, with four students ultimately joining to live on the third floor of Fisher Hall.
Joaquin Garcia ’16, a member of Whitman’s civic-engagement community, said the Whitman College proposal received fewer applications because “the application seemed to ask a lot of us,” including a résumé of community-service activities and several essay questions. Graves-Bayazitoglu said the pilot program was planned to accommodate student interest regardless of size.
Each of the collectives is expected to offer group trips and mentorship opportunities with a faculty fellow and resident graduate students. But students said that what mattered most to them was the chance to live next to people who shared their interests.
“I like the idea of trips to New York, but I’m most excited to know I can knock on the door of my neighbor and find a friend who will be willing to read a page of my work, or share what they’re passionate about,” said Natasha Japanwala ’14, a Mathey collective member interested in creative writing. “It feels like this is what I came to Princeton for.”
Ryohei Ozaki ’14, another member of the Mathey collective, said he hoped that the group would not be “something closed off, like another exclusive student group on campus.” While the group’s first project will be to renovate the basement of Edwards into the collective’s common area, he said he hopes it will become a community café that welcomes other students.
Kristin Wilson ’14 said she wants the Whitman collective to focus less on programs and lectures and more on bringing local service projects to campus, such as connecting with the immigrant community in Princeton.
Wilson, who translates English into French for Haitian staff members in the residential colleges, said she hopes the collective will offer “a different perspective on what it means to live a civically engaged life.”
Also next fall, gender-neutral housing will be available in some rooms in the residential colleges. The option was introduced in the Spelman dorms in 2009 and expanded to dorms for upperclassmen a year ago. In gender-neutral housing, each student has a single bedroom, but students can share conjoined bathrooms or common rooms.
“I think expanding to the sophomores is a crucial step forward,” said Emily VanderLinden ’13, who last year led a petition drive that collected more than 1,000 signatures by the Princeton Equality Project to expand mixed-gender housing. Gay and transgender students benefit the most from flexibility in dorm options, students said.
“My experience with same-gender housing before was OK,” said LGBT peer educator Richard Gadsden ’13, who lives with a female friend, “but I often felt like the only thing I had in common with my roommates was our gender. I wanted to live with someone who shared more interests with me.”
Anxieties relating to heterosexual couples using the option have yet to dissipate completely. Tony Cheng ’14 lives in a Spelman dorm where two of his opposite-sex roommates ended a romantic relationship over the summer and yet continue to live in their suite in their respective singles. He said another straight couple live downstairs.
While Cheng had some initial concerns, he said the only disagreements have come over noise, study, and sleep, which is “normal for any college suite.”