(Not so) Homes of Special Interest – The Middlebury Campus


As over-enrollment drives the college to fill all rooms on campus, places in language houses and other houses of special interest are part of the regular room draw.

A unique part of the Middlebury experience is the opportunity to live in a university or special interest house where students pursue a common interest and share it with the campus community. These include 10 Language Houses, the House of Queer Studies, Self-Reliance, and InSite, as well as Special Interest Houses where residents try cooking recipes, learn about spiritual traditions, or lead healthy, mindful lives. .

“We watched a lot of Soviet cartoons and we did a lot of cooking,” said Julian Gonzales-Poirier ’23, a resident of the Russian House.

Having lived at the Russian House for his entire second year, Gonzales-Poirier considers his experience as a mini-study abroad, during which he strengthened his language skills and familiarized himself with Russian culture. Quinn Rifkin ’22, who has just started her semester at the Italian House, hopes to immerse herself in the Italian language by chatting with her peers and the teaching assistant.

However, due to oversubscription this fall, these special communities are starting to change. As the housing problem escalated, the school has decided to reclaim certain housing units of interest to students with no common interest.

“Our top priority has been to provide an in-person educational experience for all active students who wish to be at Middlebury this fall,” said AJ Place, Associate Dean of Students. “We had to be creative in using as much space as possible, including any open space in the homes of interest. “

Currently, 301 students live in homes of interest. Fifteen special accommodation spots were added to the August room draw, including eight from Community Engagement House at 48 South Street. The Arab House, where ideally five students sign the linguistic commitment to speak only Arabic, now welcomes two Arabic speakers and three non-speakers.

Hazel Traw ’24, one of the two Arabic speakers in the house, has been studying Arabic for four years. She sees the language house as an opportunity to practice the use of the language in a relaxed setting. For Traw, the arrival of non-Arabic speakers came as a surprise. The Residential life the staff did not communicate with her and the other Arabic speaker in advance about the non-speakers, so they only realized what was happening at the first house meeting after moving in.

“I guess that makes [our experience] a little different, but I don’t think that worsens the sense of community, ”Traw said. When meeting other people in the morning or late at night, she is happy to chat with non-English speakers.

Sam Roubin ’23, 5, a non-Arabic speaker, picked one of the few doubles left on campus with his friend in the August draw. As the portal displayed the house’s name as “Sperry,” he only realized that he was in the Arab house when he searched for it afterwards.

Currently, the Arab House organizes at least one event per week, such as cooking traditional Arab dishes and watching Arab movies. Students from different courses come and non-speaker residents are always welcome. Roubin likes the homey feeling of home compared to ordinary dorms, and the Arabic teaching assistant taught her simple Arabic words.

Although it did not participate in the raffle for rooms, the Maison du Bien-être on Weybridge Street also felt the pressure of the housing crisis. Supported by the Office of Health and Well-Being Education, the house is designed to promote individual and collective well-being and behavior without or with low consumption of substances. To apply, students must submit an application and attend an interview.

Ansen Gong ’23, who was distant in spring 2021, admitted he asked for the Wellness House to avoid off-campus accommodation at Bread Loaf – the only regular accommodation option he had left when he logged in to the portal at 4:00 a.m. in China for his lottery draw. He assumes that about half of the residents have come to Wellness for similar reasons, but he enjoys living with everyone in this small community with their own kitchen and laundry room.

“If you want a quiet place to live, [Wellness] is pretty cool, ”Gong said.

On the other hand, Sophia Wittig ’24 applied for Wellness because she was unable to secure a place in Bread Loaf, which is only open to juniors and seniors. “I specifically asked to go to Bread Loaf for the financial discount, but [the school] wanted us to have the on-campus experience that we missed last year, ”Wittig said. She knows that many sophomores have the same financial worries and would happily live at Bread Loaf if allowed.

Regardless of why the students chose wellness, regarding substance use, Wittig said she “saw, felt, or heard nothing.” During orientation, residents agreed to quiet hours on weekdays and weekends. “[The house is] very calm when I go back [at night], which is pretty cool. said Ansen.

However, other than that, a common quest for well-being does not appear to be visible. “We have community expectations taped to the wall,” Wittig said. “We’re supposed to have dinners at home once a month, but that hasn’t happened.”

“We understand that it is not ideal to have one or more students living in a house of interest without this specific interest,” Place said. “If students have any concerns, we encourage them to contact their community assistant directly, home contacts or our office so that we can offer assistance. “


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