In the last few weeks, Hamilton has often been referenced in discussions of residence-hall desirability. It’s been said to resemble all sorts of things from a hotel to the dorms on the TV show Zoey 101. Much of this is due to the new renovations and housing style changes that were made during the summer of 2017. Notable renovations include the conversion of two-room doubles from existing singles, the addition of common rooms on every floor, and the designation as first-year-only housing.
According to Sara Rothenberger, Assistant Dean for Residential Education and Living, the decision to create first-year housing came after two years of assessing Conn’s traditional housing to see whether creating solely first-year housing would be beneficial to first-year students. Then, last year, two floors of Morrison were converted into first-year floors in a pilot program to see how this idea would do in real life. The pilot’s goal was to create a sense of community for first-year students who are prone to feeling homesick, as many are living away from home for the first time.
Hamilton was chosen as the first all-first-year house on campus since it was not popular with the upperclassmen in the housing lottery. Rothenberger said: “We want to be able to make changes to housing across time that create first-year housing without detracting from upperclass housing options.” With the new improvements, 40% of first-year students now live in all first-year floors, and the goal is eventually for all first-year students to be in first-year housing only.
In planning the renovations, some of the students from the pilot in Morrisson filled out questionnaires and participated in focus groups where they were able to offer feedback from their experiences. This provided insight into the advantages and disadvantages of these changes. Oliver O’Neill ’20, who lived on one of the all-first-year floors in Morrisson last year, said that his favorite aspect of living on the floor was that he made some of his best friends, but he believes that if he were on a floor with some upperclassmen, it would have been easier for him assimilate. This year he lives in Katherine Blunt and said that “the first-years on my floor consistently hang out with some of the upperclassmen, which is really cool. I didn’t really have that experience of living with someone who could show me the ropes.” In his opinion, the floors could become cliquey, and it would have helped to have more of an upperclassmen presence in the first few weeks of school.
Even though the Morrison experiment received mixed reviews, the renovations in Hamilton have generated positive feedback according to Rothenberger, who said that students “love living around so many people that they got to know through orientation fist.” She said that the renovations permit first-years to find friends more easily because the new common rooms provide a space for them to hang out. Emily Suher ’21 has been living in Hamilton for three weeks now and said that she enjoys living in an all-first-year dorm because the people on her floor are really close; it gives her something in common with the other students around her. She also said, though, similarly to O’Neill, “part of me was looking forward to living in a dorm that was mixed so that I’d meet upperclassmen that could show me the ropes.” This seems to be the common theme in identifying the negative aspects of an all first-year dorm.
In regards to the physical renovations, Suher explains that she loves them for the most part. She thinks that the two-room doubles provide a great space to share with a roommate while still allowing for some privacy and personal space. Her only concern is that, because each floor has its own common room, it is harder for all of the floors to become connected. “I would prefer it if we just had a living room, like in the older dorms, because I know that when my parents went here, the living room was where everything happened. So they got to be friends with the whole dorm and I find that I don’t really know the kids on the second and third floors well, so I would really love if we were able to mix more. But it’s still nice to have a space where the floor can just hang out.” Similarly, O’Neill said this occurred last year with the two floors in Morrison. There are upcoming events in Hamilton, though, such as “house dinner,” that are designed to integrate the floors.
While the updates in Hamilton have been relatively successful so far for the first-year students, some upperclassmen have expressed interest in living in Hamilton now that it is renovated. Rothenberger said “it will be important for us to think about the possibilities of renovating a building for upperclass students in the near future.” Each summer, the College makes some renovations, so these building updates hint at what might be possible in the next couple of years.