Penn has been around for hundreds of years and has acquired traditions along the way. College houses continue to use these special events to connect residents and create a community.
One of the most well-known traditions takes place in Riepe Faculty Master Dennis DeTurck’s apartment. At 10 p.m. every Wednesday, freshmen line up in front of Magee 206 to grab his famous cookies. Despite being on sabbatical this semester, DeTurck continues to make hundreds of cookies each week to satisfy the sweet tooth of Riepe College House residents.
College freshman Claire Huffman is a regular attendee of cookie nights and says that the night usually ends with the singing of show tunes around DeTurck’s piano.
“It’s really fun, I have met some people that I would not have known otherwise,” she said.
Gregory College House Dean Chris Donovan said a key part of the college house traditions is creating these shared social environments. One of his favorite Gregory traditions is called “I Love TV.” Professor Lance Wahlert started the event when he became a faculty fellow in Gregory. Every few weeks, Wahlert cooks in the house kitchen for students, while a marathon of a TV series plays in the film lounge.
“[Student-run traditions are] one of my favorite things about the house,” said Donovan. “When new traditions start, it is usually because a student had a really good idea and it worked and then we can make it a sustainable thing.”
Many college house traditions revolve around food, but this feature has a somewhat hidden historical significance. Donovan mentioned that the college house system was inspired by the models of Oxford and Cambridge. However, unlike these institutions, not every college house at Penn has a dining hall.
“We try to replicate that experience through regular social gatherings,” said Donovan. “It sort of creates that family dinner atmosphere.”
Harnwell College House also offers “family dinner” traditions like the Probasco Dinners in the house's rooftop lounge.
“It gives us a chance to get together and break up the routine of school,” Harnwell College House Dean Courtney Dombroski said. “It bridges the academic and the living into one low-key event.”
These dinners are named in honor of Harnwell College House’s namesake, Gaylord Probasco Harnwell, and have been a tradition for over a decade. Harnwell served as the president of the University from 1953 until 1970.
Dombroski has even had some students who open their homes up to her, furthering connections and college house camaraderie.
“We are engaging with our traditions and regular programming [in a way] that makes them feel connected to us, “ Dombroski said. “I think that really is a success of the College House system.”
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