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From the Quad to the high-rises, Penn undergraduates who live on campus have the opportunity to mingle with professors, get help on math homework, attend concerts—and even classes—without stepping outside their residences. Around the country, more universities are embracing the idea of turning student dorms into living and learning communities.

By Susan Lonkevich | Illustration by Brian Raczka

Sidebars: A Tour of the Neighborhood and Civic Lessons

Emblazoned on a scroll beneath a blue shield depicting a moon, a star and a dragon-like beast known as a wyvern, those three words roll mysteriously across the tongue, like the password for some ancient fraternal order.
    What they form, rather, is an approximate Latin translation of the Stouffer food company motto, “Nothing comes closer to home”–hardly the stuff of secret handshakes and clandestine meetings, but a clever coat of arms for Stouffer College House (named after Penn benefactor Vernon J. Stouffer W’23). One of Stouffer’s student residents created the design during a coat of arms contest held in the spring for the University’s dozen college houses.
    This nod to heraldry represents one small way that folks in the Office of College Houses and Academic Services hope to crystallize a sense of tradition and community throughout the University’s revamped system of on-campus housing.
    Last fall Penn turned all 12 residences into college houses where undergraduates live among faculty masters and fellows, graduate associates, resident advisers and house deans (see box). It made some modest building renovations (and planned much more ambitious ones; see story on page 22), hired additional staff and conducted extensive training on topics ranging from academic advising to cultural opportunities in Philadelphia. More than 100 non-resident faculty were recruited to participate in college-house activities throughout the year, while several faculty-in-residence took advantage of special funds to teach in-house seminars.
    Penn dedicated space to three new residential programs for students with shared intellectual interests and expanded the delivery of academic-support services through the houses. It also attempted to better mix freshmen and upperclassmen, with the hope of promoting lasting ties to individual residences.
    Across the country, universities appear to be adopting housing initiatives with a similar spirit. In the Ivy League alone:
    Columbia University has created a new system of class deans whose offices are located in the residence halls and is constructing a new upperclass dorm that will serve as a living/learning center for seniors.
    Dartmouth University is studying ways to provide more choices, continuity and interaction within student residences, with the goals of decreasing the number of students living off campus and eliminating student alcohol abuse.
    Cornell University is developing plans and considering options to phase in a residential-house system for its upperclassmen.
    College-house organizers at Penn say they weren’t motivated by trends or the drive of competition, but a long untapped opportunity to support the University’s academic mission through all of its residences, while also making better use of electronic communication.
    “This happened now because the president and provost recognized what 30 years of planning reports have said all along: that this was an unutilized opportunity that Penn possessed,” says Dr. David Brownlee, the professor of art history who serves as director of the Office of College Houses and Academic Services. “It’s not a matter of a new or stronger argument, or really substantially different set of circumstances, but of leadership. President Rodin and a succession of provosts–credit must be shared by [former provosts] Stanley Chodorow and Michael Wachter–saw that this was a really powerful idea.” Although changes probably have made Penn more competitive, he adds, “the leading issue was our responsibility for our own students–the ones who are, in fact, already here.”
    Whether students will fully engage in the opportunities provided by college-house living remains to be seen. The new system also has some critics, including Dr. Alan Kors, the professor of history who helped found the first college house at Penn three decades ago. By duplicating this residential model on such a large scale, he argues, “What you’re going to end up with is a college-house system in name rather than in programmatic spirit.”

Growing Community
    Sitting down in April to talk about the college-house experiment, Brownlee surveys the campus residences like a patient gardener, tending to the individual needs of his seedlings. “We are now engaged in the process of harnessing the human resources that we put in place to the project of building communities. And that isn’t a top-down process where you say, ‘You go out there and build a community using Formula 227 out of the handbook for community building.’ It is like gardening. You plant things and step back and watch to see what grows in a particular climate, where the soil is enriched by faculty and graduate students of a particular kind with students of a particular kind, in facilities of a particular kind.”
    To give an example, Brownlee refers to a blood drive taking place that day in Hamilton College House, the residential tower where his office is located. “I think it’s fair to say that no high-rise in the past had sponsored a blood drive. But now this is Hamilton College House, and it is the seat of the community-service residential program.” (Students committed to community outreach occupy the building’s 12th floor.)
    Harnwell College House, the high- rise where he lives as faculty master, has traded in on residents’ interest in the arts to organize a variety of cultural activities, including Saturday-evening concerts in its rooftop lounge. With improved lighting, says Brownlee, this long-neglected space has become a viable study and social venue.
    Building upon its 29-year tradition as an active residential community with a focus on African-American culture and literature, W.E.B. DuBois College House sponsored a scholarly, community-service conference this spring–a logical extension of a course taught on site by faculty master Dr. Howard Stevenson, professor of psychology in education. The house also has commissioned collages by a local neighborhood artist and is raising money to create the Paul Robeson Student Research Center.
    “These are the different flowers that are beginning to appear,” says Brownlee. In the coming year, he adds, “The principal thing is to stand back and continue to provide as much support and nourishment as we can for these things to develop in diverse ways.”
    Brownlee wasn’t present for the germination of Penn’s college-house system in the early 1970s, when a small group of faculty, including Kors, organized Van Pelt Manor House around the idea of undergraduates, professors and graduate students sharing intellectual ideas and living space. He was heavily influenced, however, by his own undergraduate and graduate years at Harvard, where he lived and tutored in college houses. “I would say that the great lesson for me was the splendid ordinariness of an academic community in which it is just taken for granted that someone down the corridor knows something that you’d like to learn. When you have an interest, you can find support for doing it, and when you have a problem, you can find resources for solving it within the community.”
    On the surface Penn’s college-house system resembles programs that have thrived for decades at Harvard and Yale. “It recognizes that universities, when they operate real estate, ought to be operating it to support their primary mission, which is education, not real estate development,” Brownlee says. But there are striking differences, as well, he points out. Penn, for example, currently can house only about 55 percent of its undergraduates on campus in university-owned buildings; as a result, a great number of students live in apartments off campus or in Greek houses. Penn’s program is also distinguished by the large number of faculty living among students on campus (currently 28), the growth of small residential programs within the larger houses (with the addition of a program focused on entrepreneurial management at Spruce College House this fall, they number 19), and the 21st Century Wheel project–a spectrum of academic-support services that can be accessed from the residences, either electronically or in person.

Looking Back
    “For those of us who have watched the evolution of the college houses over the years, it’s quite a gratifying moment,” observes Dr. Peter Conn, an English professor and the newly appointed deputy provost of the University. He has served as the first faculty master in two college houses–Hill and Community–during his three-decade career at Penn.
    What began as “a bottom-up, almost counter-cultural statement, has emerged as a central part of the University’s educational undertaking,” Conn notes. “Students find themselves coexisting in their residential spaces with all sorts of activities and academic services.”
    He continues, “A large number of people deserve credit for this significant accomplishment, including [emeritus English professor] Bob Lucid and [English professor] Al Filreis, who led the residential faculty in the formative days of the college house program, and David Brownlee, who is providing superlative leadership right now.”
    Still, even supporters of the college-house system, like Conn, are aware of challenges ahead. “One of our principal challenges in the coming months and years is to embed this new organization securely in Penn’s academic culture, not just among students, but among faculty as well. Not all of our students are going to be equally enthusiastic about the new system, and not enough of our faculty are fully informed about what we’re up to. But it needs to be emphasized that all of this is very much a work in progress, and will take several years to mature.”

Inventing the Wheel
    College students with late-night hunger pangs have long been able to phone for pizza delivery, but those seeking help with differential equations typically have had few resources to call upon after hours. With the development of the Wheel, Penn undergraduates can avail themselves of a range of academic-support services–including math, computing, writing, library and foreign-language advising–without leaving their dorms, or in some cases, even their dorm-room computers.
    “Every week we get an e-mail from two math advisers at Spruce,” says Mike Pezzicola EAS’02, who has benefited from the Wheel. “They say, ‘These are going to be the hours,’ and they normally sit right over here on the other side [of the study lounge]. You just go and sit down and say, ‘I need help with this concept or this problem or this practice exam.’” In-house computing help made PC hookups at the beginning of the school year a cinch, he adds.
    For many, the 21st Century Wheel Project is one of the most exciting components of the college-house system. It “represents an exceptionally shrewd use of technology and of administrative staff,” Conn says. “It also exemplifies our larger purpose, which is quite simply to transform the nature of the undergraduate experience.” In the near future, he adds, “the Wheel will expand to include additional support,” including a public-speaking component.
    Part of the push to develop the Wheel, explains Brownlee, “was the fact that Penn has four undergraduate schools with no center to provide these services. What the college houses offer is one place where students in all four schools can find these things.”

Dinner On the House
It’s a Monday evening at the Class of 1920 Commons. Inside a private dining room 10 people gather around a table, their trays laden with an undistinguished repast of chicken and salad. Intellectual nourishment is clearly the focus as Dr. Peter Nowell, the Gaylord P. and Mary Harnwell Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine who also serves as deputy director of Penn’s Cancer Center, has just returned from a research conference in Center City Philadelphia to be the dinner guest of Harnwell College House.
    Though Nowell already has spent the day with colleagues probing strides and setbacks in the search for a cancer cure, he’s happy to continue the discourse with a lay audience. The approachable scientist, who was lauded early in his career for establishing one of the first links between chromosomes and cancer, jokes that he opposes term limits for lawmakers because he figures, “The older they get, the more interested they are in the diseases of old age.” Despite the opportunity to dine with one of the University’s premier cancer researchers, the turnout is sparse–perhaps because the event followed a holiday weekend, on short notice. Of those assembled, only three are undergraduate residents.
    Brownlee remains a strong fan of the faculty dinners, however, marveling at the unexpected dynamics generated when people from different backgrounds sit down together for a meal; 500 were hosted by the houses last year. He recalls dinner with Dr. Ralph Rosen, associate professor and chair of classical studies, which drew folks from such varied disciplines as psychology of education, Chinese literature, Greek comedy and architectural history. “We talked about everything under the sun. It was enormously powerful. It’s just a matter of getting some of the world’s smartest people of different ages and interests together in a congenial setting.”
    This school year, according to Brownlee, the college houses will continue to look for new and meaningful ways to bring non-resident faculty “from every corner of the university” in contact with students where they live. They will urge faculty who teach freshman seminars to conduct them in the college houses and encourage faculty advisers to hold office hours inside the residences. By working with the new dining services management, his office also planned to modify the layouts of campus dining facilities to create more visible gathering points for each house and its faculty guests. “Someone who wanted to know how space was divided up couldn’t figure it out last year.”

Queasy Listening
Dr. Helen Davies Gr’60 perches on a couch in a lounge of Spruce College House and proceeds to sing, ever so quietly, so as not to disturb a group of students studying nearby. The tune is Sounds of Silence, but the lyrics have been changed:

“Hello herpes, my old friend …
That virus softly creeping,
Fell upon us while we were sleeping … “

    Similarly tasteless songs waft down from Spruce’s Provosts’ Tower when Davies is teaching her popular introductory seminar on infectious diseases. She uses them as mnemonic devices to help students remember the details about assorted viruses and bacterium. “We can ruin any song that you dearly love,” boasts the professor of microbiology at Penn’s School of Medicine and faculty master of Spruce.
    Under Davies’ leadership Spruce became home last fall to new residential programs on infectious diseases and women in science. Today’s students, she explains, “grew up after we understood that AIDS was a world epidemic, and this has made them very curious about emerging infectious diseases.” As the president and a founding member of the Association of Women in Science, Davies also serves as a role model for residents. A student who accompanied her to the meeting of another professional organization last year “was just overwhelmed,” she recalls, “and she wrote me a beautiful letter. She signed it, ‘Yours in science.’”
    Issues of African-American identity and social action shape a research seminar held at DuBois. Led by Howard Stevenson, students gather in the house’s multi-purpose room one afternoon to discuss their projects–and the faces behind the data. One class member reports hugging a young boy with whom she had been working, only to have him beg for another hug. “He was showing you himself,” Stevenson points out. “Unfortunately, we have educational settings that squeeze the life out of kids.”
    House dean Sonia Elliott C’88, a DuBois alumna herself, says the class covers such issues as how to become a “participant observer” and how to set aside preconceived notions that could taint research. After they’ve spent time out in the field, she says, “We bring them back here so they can share some of their frustrations” and successes. “The class gives them a safe space to be themselves,” and this in turn allows them to “show their brilliance.” Because of its longtime emphasis on community building, many of the practices made formal within the new college-house system are familiar to DuBois, notes Elliott. “But now we get more money to fund different initiatives we’ve tried to pursue in the past. It’s been a positive change.”

Quad or Die? Deconstructing the Freshman Experience
It has been described as The Penn Freshman Experience. As tradition goes, as soon as they receive their acceptance letters to Penn, many students know they want to live in the Quad for their first year; they also know they want to leave by their sophomore year for the comforts and privacy of an air-conditioned high-rise or off-campus apartment. This poses a challenge for the goal of fully integrating all 12 college houses.
    Judging by the proliferation of dorm-bonding activities in Spruce College House, the presence of upperclass students in traditionally first-year residences has not watered down the so-called freshman experience. On Thursdays the residents of one floor gathered around the television to watch Friends. Milk and cookies became a Sunday night study-break staple for another group. Freshman Rachel Rosenblatt C’02 organized Jewish holiday programs for Spruce residents throughout the year.
    The main difference, notes faculty master Helen Davies, is that “students know they’re allowed to stay [after freshman year], so they bond in a different way, and they want to stay.” Mike Pezzicola, who likes the atmosphere and convenient location of Spruce, will stick around for his sophomore year to serve as financial manager and assist in planning renovations for the Quad.
    Rosenblatt has chosen to live in a sorority house instead. “I think for many people there’s a real stigma attached to being an upperclassman in the Quad, and for others there isn’t,” she says. “That’s why total integration is going to take some time.”
    Resident adviser Emily Pollack C’00 acknowledges the appeal of tradition. “My freshman year, it was like, Quad or die. Part of my experience that made it so amazing was being with 29 other freshmen in a very close-knit community. But at the same time, I think the opportunities for interacting with other classes, and the resources that upperclassmen can provide, have a lot of potential.”
    Though some have questioned the feasibility of forming close bonds in one of Penn’s high-rises-turned-college houses, others report that it’s not an impossible feat. Monica Maccani C’01 paused long enough from cramming for finals on College Green one April afternoon to consider the past year as a sophomore in Harrison. “I feel there is a kind of a community within the house. I don’t necessarily hang out there on weekends, but when I am there I feel like I’m part of something more than an apartment complex.” From attending movie nights and Sunday brunches in its rooftop lounge to reading daily e-mail updates from the active house dean, Maccani managed to stay partly involved even though she’s busy with track.
    Katie Shannon C’02 said she enjoyed the privacy she experienced at Harnwell her freshman year even though she didn’t meet many people at first. “I thought it was awesome I could live in a high-rise.” There’s just one problem. “Now that I’m a sophomore trying to look for housing, a lot of my friends can’t get into the high-rises because the freshmen are there, and they don’t want to live in the Quad, because you don’t have your own bathroom or your own kitchen.” Others echoed this complaint.
    Brownlee is bemused by the lingering myths of “some glorious, happy time” when all freshmen, and only freshmen, lived in the Quad. “Well, that wasn’t the case,” he says. The structure initially served as the residence for male students of all classes. As enrollment increased, and more dorms were constructed, some freshmen were housed elsewhere, including in the high-rises, because the Quad wasn’t big enough to accommodate them all.
    Today on-campus housing continues to be a limited resource, Brownlee explains, and the college houses are unable to satisfy all the requests that come from upperclassmen. “That problem stems from the overall extreme scarcity of on-campus housing, not from the fact that we reserved a slightly increased number of freshmen beds in the skyscrapers this year, having learned from last year’s demand patterns. The freshman assignment policy did not deplete the stock of prized one-bedroom-per-person suites that are favored by upperclassman; there just aren’t enough of those spaces to begin with.”

Birth of a College House
    The year is 1972. Near the entrance of Van Pelt, two bulletin boards announce that a room is now available for “all instrumentalists, studyers, dylantants, loners, and students.” Reminders are posted about the scheduled “reenactment of the Crimean War” as well as the planned meetings of a dream interpretation seminar and what appears to be a Lord of the Rings discussion group. Two residents use the space to solicit dates for Sadie Hawkins day, while another notice heralds the return of affiliate—resident sherry parties. This is how a Gazette article (March 1972) describes life in the University’s first college house.
    Fast forward a quarter of a century, and the paper-postings have turned into electronic homepages maintained by each college house, with chat rooms and event calendars. The faculty dinners continue, but the sherry hour that once preceded them has gone the way of lamb-chop sideburns.
    That’s not all that has changed, contends Alan Kors, one of the founders of the first college house at Penn. He argues that the current model of 12 college houses dilutes the student and faculty commitment, as well as the diversity, that made Van Pelt such a successful experiment.
    Before the first college house was born, Kors recalls, “Penn was a very atomized university. Students, graduate students and faculty rarely interacted on an informal basis, scientists and poets rarely met, the engineers and string quartets rarely met, and seniors and freshmen rarely met.” Drawing on their backgrounds as former students at Princeton and Harvard, Kors and Dr. Mark Adams, now associate professor and graduate chair of history and the sociology of science, devised the idea for a living and learning space to bridge these gaps. With the support of several faculty and graduate students, the two convinced former University President Martin Meyerson Hon’70 that “this would be a terrific alternative–for the people who wanted it”–to the existing housing arrangements.
    Although they had Meyerson’s strong backing from the start, Kors says, “The residence office back then thought we were out of our minds: No students would want to live with faculty, and no faculty would want to live with students.” The diverse mix of 160 undergraduates and 12 faculty and graduate fellows who moved into Van Pelt in the fall of 1971 proved them wrong.
    Kors reminisces about noncredit seminars offered in the house on modern poetry and artificial intelligence. On any given Wednesday, he adds, 30 faculty would show up for wine and dinner with Van Pelt residents, knowing that the students would share their enthusiasm.
    As the Gazette piece makes clear, Van Pelt was not a utopia. In typical fashion, some students complained about being excluded from the following year’s admissions process. Others raised questions about the elite aura of the house. Another resident complained of housemates who “impose themselves to the limits of my endurance.”
    Still, Kors speaks of the early days with a tangible wistfulness. “We had no social engineering, no speech codes,” he says. “People offended each other all the time. Then they learned how to talk to each other and how to understand each other.” But as additional college houses were created, and the residence office gradually assumed control of their operations, he says, “The students who truly wanted what a college house had to offer got spread too thin.”
    Brownlee agrees that “smaller, self-selected communities [do] have an intensity that no university-wide system can achieve everywhere,” but he argues that one can find this in the small residential programs already located within six of Penn’s college houses. On the other hand, he says, “the people who just want a landlord-tenant relationship” can pursue it “in the private-housing community.”
    One advocate of living-learning communities like Penn’s is architect Jane Wright, of the Norfolk firm Hanbury Evans. Working with universities around the country to redefine student housing, she has observed the trend strengthen each year, representing a return, in her view, to an older model of academic life. From the University of Virginia to Washington University in St. Louis, she says, schools are planning to introduce or add more residential colleges to their campuses. “It’s a way for the larger universities to break down into smaller communities and have a closer relationship from student to student, and from student to faculty.”
    The benefits go beyond the merely philosophic. “If you look at the [college] graduation and retention rates, they’re higher when relationships have been built,” she says. More universities are recognizing the role that housing arrangements play in fostering, or discouraging, community, Wright adds. “There was a point when a lot of universities” had to deal with a space crunch, and were forced to “warehouse students,” squeezing as many undergraduates as possible into existing spaces. Such housing arrangements, they found, often contributed to “behavior-management” problems.
    In contrast, well-planned facilities can enhance the academic experience. Wright has worked with the University of North Carolina, for example, to create on-campus student housing with modern amenities that will attract faculty. To entice professors to leave the “core campus” to teach, she explains, you offer “a great office, great classroom and a great parking space.”
    A front-page article in the March 3 edition of The New York Times attributes such initiatives, in part, to competition sparked by distance learning–the process by which students can earn degrees at some schools without stepping on campus. The article also cites parental demands for greater supervision of students. (Or in Kors’ words, “The generation that was stoned on pot every night of their lives is now deeply concerned about undergraduate drinking.”) In the early days of Van Pelt, faculty and graduate associates living there served purely as intellectual and cultural resources, Kors says. “Penn has tended to infantilize its undergraduates, so we no longer have the notion of a graduate fellow. We have RAs and GAs who serve a police function.”
    Brownlee strongly rejects the notion that, under a college-house model such as Penn’s, students are treated like babies. “In all of our discussions there was not [this notion] that we needed to get on the backs of students and pretend that we were their parents. We simply had in our hands the tools necessary to change the general climate in which undergraduate education went forward at Penn, and [believed] we ought to pick up these tools.”
    No one is forced to participate in college-house activities, or to even live on campus, he notes. Those who do choose to be involved can exercise considerable leadership within their living environments, serving on house councils, proposing seminar topics and consulting on renovations. Even the coats of arms project provides a symbolic way for students to shape and reflect the distinct character of each house. Brownlee’s office selected designs submitted by four houses and had them tweaked by an artist over the summer so they could be reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, flags and plaques.
    DuBois’ design excerpts the African proverb, “It Takes a Village,” and features a peacock, for dignity, as well as a tree with exposed roots to signify family strength. Stouffer’s fiercely postured wyvern symbolizes valor and protection; the star, celestial goodness and nobility; and the moon, “serene power over mundane actions.” The home-oriented motto, which Nestle U.S.A. (Stouffer’s parent company) enthusiastically permitted the house to replicate in Latin, speaks for itself.
    “Part of the fun is we’re trying to create traditions,” says Sue Smith, the associate director for communications in the college-houses office who is overseeing the project. “We’re relying on the students to bring some spirit to it.” And perhaps one day, when they visit campus as alumni with children of their own, they will come across these coats of arms and launch into reveries about that indelible Penn tradition–the College House Experience.


A Tour of the Neighborhood

Here’s a glance at Penn’s 12 college houses, many of which have residential programs or themes:

Community House, 3700 Spruce Street–Located in the Quad, it unites Thomas Penn, Cleeman, Magee, Ashhurst, McIlhenny, Warwick, Ward, Chestnut and Butcher.

W.E.B. DuBois College House, 3900 Walnut Street, a low-rise which attracts students with an interest in and commitment to African-American culture and literature. 

Goldberg College House, 3700 Spruce Street–In the Upper Quad, its buildings include Brooks, Leidy, Franklin, Foerderer, McKean, Baldwin, Class of 1887, Craig, Baird, Fitler and Hopkinson. House theme: “Public Affairs and Public Culture.” 

Gregory College House, 3909 Spruce Street–Consists of Van Pelt Manor House, established in 1971 as the first college house, and the Class of 1925 residence, which features the Modern Languages Program (Casa Italiana, Maison Française, Casa Hispanica and Deutches Haus). 

Hamilton College House (formerly known as High Rise North), 3901 Locust Walk–Home to the Community Service Residential Program.

Harnwell College House (formerly known as High Rise East), 3820 Locust Walk–Home to five residential programs: Ancient Studies/ University Museum, Arts House, East Asia, International and Latin American. 

Harrison College House (formerly known as High Rise South), 3910 Irving Street. Home to the Perspectives in the Humanities and the Science and Technology Wing residential programs for upperclass students.

Hill College House, 3333 Walnut Street–Continues a long tradition of student leadership through its House Council and UpperClass Board.

King’s Court/English College House, 3465 Sansom Street– Biosphere (Environmental and Health Issues) Residential Program, Huntsman Program for International Studies and Business, Perspectives in the Humanities Residential Program for first-year students, Science and Technology Wing Residential Program for freshmen and upperclassmen.

Spruce College House, 3700 Spruce Street–Includes eight buildings in the Lower Quad: E.F. Smith, Coxe, Rodney, Bishop White, Birthday, Mask and Wig, Provosts’ Tower and Graduate. Residential programs include Entrepreneurial Management, Study of Infectious Diseases and Women in Science.

Stouffer College House, 3702/3817 Spruce Street–Includes Stouffer Hall and Mayer Hall, adjacent to the Quad.

Ware College House, 3700 Spruce Street–Made up of 11 buildings in the center of the Quad: Provost Smith, Lippincott, Carruth, New York Alumni, Morgan, Wilson, Bodine, Morris, Class of 1928, Speakman and Tudor Memorial Tower.


Civic Lessons

The spirit of college houses extends beyond the walls of student residences at Penn to include two student-initiated, non-residential communities, or hubs, situated in their midst: Civic House and Kelly Writers House.

The Writers House has evolved over the past four years into an active gathering place for aspiring and professional wordsmiths of all kinds, hosting readings, workshops and classes. Civic House, starting its second year this fall, also serves a broad range of constituents, from campus groups and neighborhood organizations to academic courses designed around service learning. In addition to providing office, meeting and classroom space, notes its director, David Grossman, the building itself–located at 3914 Locust Walk–functions “as a kind of community living room.”
    The house also provides a great training ground for tomorrow’s leaders, says Dr. Peter Conn, the deputy provost who has served as its faculty adviser. “At Civic House students find support as they attempt to engage in meaningful opportunities for community service, but they are also encouraged to reflect on those experiences in systematic ways. In other words, at its best, Civic House combines service projects with opportunities for inquiry, in which difficult questions can be addressed, such as: What is the connection between service and the curriculum? What is the role of the University in the community? Why am I doing this? And so on.”
    Its connections with the college houses are still evolving, Grossman says. Last year, “with Civic House and the college houses both ramping up so quickly, we relied, I think on some core traditional relationships, where they would ask us for help in organizing a project, and we would identify a project for them and help them think it through.” For some houses, it was a one-time activity; others adopted projects for the school year.
    But the potential for future collaboration, he believes, is enormous. “It can be a bonding activity for a hall. I’ve seen it bring students together from different social, economic and racial backgrounds, from different majors and from different schools on campus, because they’re doing something in common that has more meaning to it, in some respects, or different meaning, than an ice cream social.”
    Civic House is especially eager to reach freshmen and sophomores, adds Conn. “By the time they are juniors and seniors, they can be leaders training the next generation who will replace them.”

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