Before coming to Penn to start the school year, I had only been on campus twice for very short periods of time. My geographical knowledge consisted solely of the Button, the Dueling Tampons, and the infamous Quad. Thus, when my roommate and I opened our housing results over the summer, we thought we had encountered a mistake. We both frantically texted each other, wondering what even is Kings Court English College House?
On our housing form, we had listed the three houses in the Quad as our top three choices, and then filled in the last three spots with Hill, Lauder, and Stouffer. Per every YouTube video we watched, everyone had said the Quad provided the quintessential first-year experience — that’s all we wanted.
Though I was disappointed we were not in the Quad, I immediately tried to adopt a positive attitude about KCECH. I told myself, "Dorms are only where people sleep — I’ll have ample opportunities to meet everyone regardless of where my dorm is, and perhaps, there could be a strong community here that I was not aware of." Why wouldn’t Penn strive to provide an equally engaging housing environment for all incoming first years? But as I became more acquainted with KCECH, I realized that my assumption about Penn’s commitment to an engaging first-year experience was incorrect; I was shocked to find that the housing selection process actually was lopsided.
While, yes, I still have been to the Quad and met many people who live there, I, along with many other members of the KCECH community, find it very isolating to live here at times. Bordering Chestnut Street, we are physically isolated from the rest of campus. In fact, many peers and I often feel like we are actually off campus. Beyond the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business, Penn invests little in creating any other programs for students in KCECH, particularly for those who crave the first-year experience but were denied the opportunity to live in the Quad.
Penn needs to work on facilitating a more equitable environment for incoming first years. The transition to college is hard for everyone, but even harder for those of us who feel disconnected from the majority of the first-year class. Unlike Yale’s close-knit residential college system, where all students are equally provided with an opportunity to feel integrated into a community, Penn’s first-year housing seems arbitrary and unfair. The Quad houses nearly 1,500 students, and KCECH houses roughly 350 students. It’s just inevitable that the sheer number of students in the Quad facilitates a more fun, dynamic first-year experience.
Issues with housing and a sense of community are not only limited to the first-year experience. Upperclassman housing and four-year housing often lack sufficient tools and University support to build stronger bonds with people beyond a suite or floor. Penn’s residential programs such as Benjamin Franklin Scholars in Hill, Huntsman in KCECH, and other interest-based Program Communities reflect an attempt by the University to foster and maintain community but do not go far enough. Many of these communities are only for first years, and few opportunities exist for upperclassmen.
The reality is that most students in college are always open to making new friends at any point during their undergraduate career. Penn should make it a priority to facilitate opportunities for creating strong relationships for all students during their first year and beyond irrespective of their housing assignment.
If you find yourself struggling with feeling that your college house is not your home, it’s not the end of the world: Penn has more than 450 student-run organizations that facilitate strong communities within the vast student body. But, it would be beneficial, to say the least, to have a stronger sense of a home away from home too.
ALLISON SANTA-CRUZ is a College first year studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Jackson, Miss. Her email address is email@example.com.