So why do this?
The reasoning behind the changes is actually quite sound. There is a noticeable gender divide on campus, and that is the basis for dormitory repositioning and renovated common rooms. The idea is that with more areas for students to hang out other than in the Greer, the gender divide will begin to disappear, since the Greer culture is—as far as I can tell—a contributing factor to the gender divide.
The second reason is reported issues with integration of new sophomores into their grade. New students find it difficult to integrate because as freshmen there are countless bonding experiences, most notably Camp Beckett. In an attempt to fix this imbalance, sophomores will live with fellow sophomores only, ideally to help the new students integrate better into their grade.
The third reason given was to increase school spirit, which has seen a noticeable decline since I came to Deerfield in the fall of 2012. How the changing of the dorms will help to bolster school spirit is far more nebulous. Perhaps underclassmen living within their grade will help each class develop its own school spirit, but exactly how school spirit is to be mended is something that I have not been able to grasp.
In any event, while these changes seem designed to fix legitimate issues on campus, they have the potential to create as many problems as they solve.
The “Ninth-Grade Village” and the placement of sophomores with sophomores seem to pose the largest risk to me. But the idea of fixing the gender divide is a very valid goal. That being said, the sequestering of underclassman into their own dorms by grade presents the reality that freshman and sophomores will not have a chance to interact for two years, until they are juniors and seniors living together in the upperclassman dorms.
Living with older students my freshman year, and younger ones my sophomore year, I was able to become very close with people outside of my grade, forming friendships I have maintained since living with these people. I believe that separating younger grades will create a new divide among the student body: a tangible grade divide. This divide will inhibit many meaningful friendships from being formed, friendships that have, in the past, helped younger students learn the social rules of Deerfield as well as understand Deerfield traditions. The hope is that proctors will fill this void, and teach their proctees what kind of school Deerfield is. It is clear, however, that all new students will miss an experience that I found to be very valuable in my time as a freshman and sophomore.
Living with sophomores freshman year, I learned to respect older students and take their advice very seriously. That is not to say I followed older students blindly, but that I learned to consider every bit of advice given, and not to disregard people’s opinions because of their social stature.
Then, as a sophomore, I and other students in my grade realized it was now our turn to help guide new students. I learned how to help the younger students patiently, and could do so well because I had asked the exact same questions and encountered the same kinds of confusion just the year before. While this is not officially recognized as being a leadership position on campus, this role that sophomores often play on their halls under the housing system as it now exists taught generations of Deerfield sophomores to be patient and helpful with younger students more unfamiliar with Deerfield. Furthermore, this experience left them more prepared to take on upperclassman responsibilities.
I am sure that the radically different dormitory system is being implemented with the best of intentions, I cannot imagine that this is some sort of a reactionary change to anything else on campus than the issues of gender and intra-grade bonding. But I have decided, in the end, that while declining school spirit was a reason cited for implementing change, it does not seem to me to be a legitimate reason behind the new arrangements. It seems to me that changing dorm assignments will not directly improve school spirit.
When I decided to write this article, I tried to consider and recognize the supposed reasoning behind the decision-making. And in the end, I support the two tangible reasons given for the changes, the gender divide and lack of intra-grade bonding. These are immediate and tangible issues on campus that need to be dealt with.
I only wonder if there is not a more moderate way to begin to address these issues, one that does not carry with it massive potential to form new issues that will have to be dealt with, perhaps in similarly extreme ways, later on.