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Columnist Jessey Shin champions the community-building value of less popular on-campus housing options, like Kings Court English College House. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

In my few weeks here, I have discovered the following to be a quintessential part of first-year conversation.

“Which dorm do you live in?” my peers will ask. “The Quad? Hill? No? Hmm. Lauder?” Particularly knowledgeable souls may even offer Kings Court English House, but those are few and far between.

After my third or fourth consecutive no, they pause for a bit, going through their mental catalog of housing options. Typically, they draw a blank; at this point in the conversation, I usually cave and offer that I live in Gregory College House.

This isn’t just my experience, either: My friends in KCECH, Stouffer, and the like report having had similar interactions. Every so often, we’ll discuss our frustrations about living in an “unpopular” College House. But, in the end, it usually turns into a celebration of sorts, sharing our good experiences and laughing about how we’re “gatekeeping” the best College Houses.

I’m not mad about this being my ice breaker topic: It is, after all, a great opportunity to introduce the rest of Penn to the wonders of Gregory. Free food and house events galore! Our calendar is full to the brim, the rocking chairs are plentiful, and the hallways are only a little spooky.

College first-year and a current KCECH resident Stephanie Zou said, "KCECH is a big community building space. Krimo Bokreta, the College House Dean, goes out of his way to run events for the students and build our community. "We have weekly study breaks, movie nights, and a field day, where we played drawing games and ran around to fill up buckets with sponges."

My enthusiastic Gregory pitch has proven to be a nice break from the usual “What’s your major?” and “Where are you from?” conversations. I've found a community here that I have not seen anywhere else. Especially as a queer and neurodivergent student, I feel welcomed in these hallways in a way that I have not anywhere else.

I’ll admit, the 20-minute walk from Gregory to David Rittenhouse Laboratory or the Engineering Quad can be a bit painful. But a month in, I find myself looking at the perpetually-finicky dumbwaiter fondly. Just maybe, there’s a charm to running up and down the stairs, making sure the doors are shut.

In all seriousness, all this has led me to wonder: What is the first-year experience, anyway? Why does it have to live on certain parts of campus, and what does it look like outside the pentagonal confines of the Quadrangle?

According to Jamiella Brooks, Gregory Faculty Fellow and Director of Student Equity & Inclusion Initiatives at Penn Carey Law, this is not a coincidence. “Something very important [to us] is being queer and neurodivergent [affirming],” she said. “I find that Gregory is a great inclusive space. We make an effort to be inclusive: I do inclusivity training with our RA/[GAs] to ensure that, throughout the year, we’re celebrating people’s identities and cultivating healthy allyship. And that is very intentional.”

As someone reaping the benefits of these efforts, I can speak to how crucial these efforts have been: Gregory, Stouffer, KCECH, and the like may not be popular options, but they cater to the community-building needs of students who may not find it elsewhere. And I would argue there’s an inherent value in having that kind of space on campus. I have discovered the significance of a place where we embrace others’ complex, intersecting identities and celebrate their niche interests.

The other residents are with me in appreciating this culture: “I know that students that come to Gregory tend to stay in Gregory,” Dr. Brooks said. “I even see alumni come back to chat with the security guards, many of whom have been here for over 20 years.”

“I feel like I’m a big part of KCECH, and KCECH is a big part of me,” reported Zou, and I can say the same about my respective College House. There is so much to be discovered, in the winding hallways of Kings Court or by the dumbwaiter at Van Pelt: most notably, a quiet but thriving community built around snack breaks, late-night study sessions, and mutual understanding.

If nothing else, consider Zou’s parting words: “If your first priority is your social life, go for the Quad — but give the other College Houses a chance.”

JESSEY SHIN is a College first-year from Seongnam-si, South Korea. Her email is