By Katherine King
“It’s really wonderful to be able to … live in an environment [devoted to yoga] and then also to be able to create a community around it” Emily Kraus ’17, who lives in the Yoga and Meditation house, said. Many students think theme housing is just a way for sophomores to avoid the housing lottery. But there is an extensive system of requirements regulating who receives theme housing and what they do with it. Theme houses present the opportunity for students to serve the Kenyon community by sharing their interests; students like Kraus spend several hours per week making their housing a resource for the community.
“I think it’s been really successful so far,” said Phoebe Roe ’16, who is the chair of the Housing and Dining Committee, a community advisor for theme houses and a staff writer for the Collegian. She is actively involved in the theme housing process. “Theme housing kind of started as a way for Kenyon students who are interested in different activities to … be able to bring students into a place that is simply devoted to whatever that activity or theme was,” Roe said.
Assistant Director for Housing and Residential Life (ResLife) Alex Shaver said he had “never seen anything like it” in his experience in the field. Shaver emphasized that theme housing is, for the most part, regulated by students. The Housing and Dining Committee, which is comprised of students and guided by some ResLife staffers, is responsible for approving theme housing requests and checking up on theme housing during the year. Theme houses are required to hold three to five programs — events pertaining to their theme that are open to the whole campus — per semester and must fill out program evaluations that the committee reads to ensure they are serving the community.
One common misconception regarding theme housing is that group housing is only for Greek organizations. However, it is possible for any registered organization to obtain division housing. “You can only apply for division if you’ve been a theme for five years, so the difference is division is [for] longstanding student organizations recognized for their commitment to the campus community,” Shaver said. Students living in division do not have the same requirements as theme houses — including the requirement to hold programs — and their living situation is more or less permanent. The Alpha Sigma Taus, formerly Kappa Sigma Alphas, were created in 2012 and are currently still in theme housing because they haven’t had theme housing for five consecutive years yet. Thus, they have to do theme events that other Greek organizations are not required to do.
Mira Netsky ’16 lives in the ECO/PEAS North Campus Apartments. “We’ve had theme housing for the last few years,” she said. “It’s really important to our organization specifically because PEAS does a lot of work with local foods, so we need a place to store everything that’s prepared, and we put on a huge brunch every fall, … so it’s really important to have prep space.”
Oktoberfest, a celebration of autumn that includes a large outdoor cookout to which all students are invited, is the house’s biggest event, but Netsky mentioned that the space is also important for smaller events such as film screenings and cookie decorating. “It’s a great space for club members to come together and share ideas,” Netsky said. “We have a really great library [in the house] with a lot of resources about sustainability and local agriculture.”
Kraus also sees theme housing as a way to build a community. Kraus realized as a first year that the only yoga classes offered at Kenyon were fitness classes at the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) and that there was no yoga club. “We don’t really have a space besides the KAC … To really have that type of community it has to be there all the time, and so the house is an opportunity for that,” Kraus said. The Meditation House, an NCA, has far exceeded the requirement of three to five programs per semester. “We cleared the floor so there’s nothing in our living room, in the middle at least, so we have classes where we can hold at least seven people,” Kraus said. The house hosts meditation every morning, a weekly tea and meditation with the Peer Counselors and two yoga classes each week. The yoga classes usually have two to seven participants and afternoon meditation often draws 10 to 12 students.
Both Netsky and Kraus have heard complaints from other students about the fact that residents of theme housing are allowed to circumnavigate the housing lottery process. “That’s legitimate if the theme house isn’t doing anything but I feel like we’re definitely serving the community, so it doesn’t really bother me,” Kraus said. Netsky had a similar perspective. “Two of the sophomores that live in our house are the co-presidents of PEAS and the other two sophomores are so, so involved in ECO and PEAS,” she said. “They’re not just living in a house and getting a nice living space — they’re also putting in a ton of work.”