Theme Houses Receive Record Number of Applications
By Kevin Wu '12, News Section Editor
This year, deadlines for applications to theme housing were during the last week of February, more than two weeks before the March 15 deadline for Room Draw applications.

According to Torin Moore, the Director of Residential Life, the College’s 10 theme houses have collectively received a record number of applications.

“After reviewing the overall number of submissions received by theme houses this year, I can say with confidence that the interest in theme housing overall has never been stronger,” he said. “This year, 314 students applied for 243 spots in theme housing, the largest applicant pool I’ve seen in my four years at Amherst.”

When asked what might have accounted for this year’s enthusiasm toward theme housing, Moore attributed the success of a theme house to the efforts of the students already living there.

“What makes any theme house popular or unpopular are the students who live there in any given year, and what they say to the larger community about what it means to live in the theme house. Good student leadership, consistent programming, advertising of events, faculty and department involvement, coupled with an engaged student community, in the end, say the most about how a theme house is perceived by the student body.”

Professor Laure Katsaros, French House Advisor, identifies academic interest as one important factor among the many that may cause fluctuations in the number of applications to a theme house in any given year.

Some houses have had more demand than others. “I don’t think there is a single explanation for Newport’s success in attracting qualified, enthusiastic applicants. The French House is, I believe, a very congenial, friendly place where people have the opportunity to practice French with native speakers,” she said. “Over the past two years I have also seen a surge in applications among students who have started French at Amherst; they are very enthusiastic about improving their language skills and becoming better acquainted with French culture, often in preparation for study abroad.”

Marsh House, which aims both to provide a supportive environment for the College’s artists and to promote the presence of the arts on campus, received 32 applications this year, compared to the 25 it received last year. Humphries House, more commonly known as “the Zu,” offers a co-operative, community-oriented mode of life; it received 50 applications for 22 spots.

However, according to Rina Vernovskaya ’12, co-president of the Russian House at Porter, the Russian House has experienced a drop in applications this year. The factors that contribute to a decline in applications are as ambiguous as those that contribute to a rise.

“I think this is mostly due to the fact that a larger percentage of first year Russian students are Five College students,” she said. “Another factor is that many language students plan to go abroad their junior year and are hesitant about applying for only one semester. I do not believe that the decline has been because of less faculty or student involvement… I think the Russian House has [arranged] a lot of fun programs to make it feel more like a community.”

Every year, rising sophomores apply to theme houses with different expectations. Yamira Serret ’13, who will be living in the Russian House next year, offers personal as well as academic reasons for her decision.

“Given my less than desirable experience with a roommate this year, I was looking forward to landing a single my sophomore year. I also wanted to live in a dorm that was small, but not so out of the way,” she said. “Intimacy is nice. In terms of theme, the Russian House was especially desirable because I am taking Russian. I could practice my language skills all the while living in a space that appreciated all things Russian.”

Monique Williams ’13 is looking forward to living in La Casa, the Latino culture house.

“I attended an open house that they hosted last fall and I really liked the friendly atmosphere and the strong sense of community. Another reason I wanted to live in La Casa is that I’m interested in Latino/a culture though I know little about it, and I thought this would be a good way to learn. Also, I’ve become friends with people that live there this year and will live there next year, which made it easier to branch out and try something new.”

Particularly for rising sophomores, theme housing presents itself as an opportunity to join a more intimate community, one whose members share a commitment both to enriching the academic experience and to promoting cultural awareness on campus.

Issue 19, Submitted 2010-03-24 04:17:24