New Humanities House completely filled with preassign students

May 11, 2015, 2:53 p.m.

While most undergraduates wait to find out their Housing Draw results, some already know where they will be living next year, including the 118 students preassigned to the Humanities House, the new dorm currently under construction in Manzanita Park.

Meanwhile, faculty and staff involved with the project are working to plan programming for the new themed dorm, which attracted more student interest than expected. Over 200 students submitted preassignment applications, which came as a surprise to those involved in planning for the dorm’s first year. In an unusual move, ResEd allowed 100 percent of the spaces in the upperclass dorm to be preassigned.

The entire advisory council felt it was important to “set the right tone” for the dorm, and taking only preassign applicants was a way to ensure all residents are actually interested in the theme.

“My own views on this matter were shaped by the years I spent as faculty liaison for one of the theme houses on the Row, and the disappointing realization that it was very difficult to pull off any successful programming there since half the residents had only chosen the house for its location,” French professor Dan Edelstein wrote in an e-mail to The Daily.

Edelstein and his wife, Zoë Bower, will serve as RFs in the dorm, which is scheduled to be finished in August. In addition to the RF apartment, the building will contain three other apartments. Next year, two of them will be home to a postdoc and a graduate student who will be involved with dorm programming. Edelstein said the third apartment will be used to lodge visiting scholars for stays of different lengths. These could include scholars speaking in the dorm or engaging with residents, or scholars invited by other departments or programs.

One dorm event is already planned, Edelstein said: Copies of Adam Johnson’s novel “The Orphan Master’s Son” will be distributed to residents, and Johnson, an associate professor of English, will come to speak with residents about the novel during fall quarter.

Edelstein and Bower have ideas for several speaker series for Humanities House. Edelstein said he would also like to pursue the possibility of having people giving talks elsewhere on campus come to the dorm beforehand to chat with students.

However, an important aspect of the theme community will be student-run workshops on different topics of interest related to the humanities. Beth Coggeshall Ph.D. ’12, who will serve as the postdoc-in-residence at the dorm, said faculty may be involved in these workshops, but it’s important for them to remain student-led.

“We really want [the workshops] to be all student-generated,” Coggeshall said. “We’re trying to open a space that promotes that kind of conversation that students seem to want to have, and hopefully it will take shape in the way they want it to, not in a way we impose on them.”

The goal, Coggeshall said, is to create an environment in which questions of humanistic inquiry are the focus of student engagement. She knows student interest and motivation can come and go as students get busy with midterms and finals, and said the team is looking at how to maintain student involvement in the theme throughout the year.

Unsurprisingly, the dorm attracted a lot of interest from students who have participated in integrated learning environments (ILEs), year-long programs in which freshmen live together and take a course together. Current ILEs include Structured Liberal Education (SLE) and ITALIC, an arts-focused ILE; SIMILE, an ILE focused on the history of science, was canceled this year.

According to Edelstein, about 50 preassigned Humanities House residents have been in SLE, 10 have been in ITALIC, and six have been in SIMILE. Not all applicants who had been in ILEs were accepted, and there were many interested applicants and preassignees who weren’t in an ILE, but participation in these programs was taken into account. Edelstein said it’s a way for non-humanities majors to demonstrate serious interest in the humanities.

Coggeshall, who is a lecturer in the SLE program, said she hopes Humanities House can replicate some of the best aspects of the SLE community, despite not being a curricular program.

“We’re hoping to find the same level of engagement that SLE students have, in terms of these kinds of [humanistic] questions,” Coggeshall said. “The nice thing about working with SLE students is that SLE students show up for things. If you offer them tickets to an opera, they’re going to go. If you suggest they go to a ballet, they’re going to take you up on it. And then they’re going to have an actual critical conversations afterwards.”

May Peterson ’17, who was in SLE her freshman year and drew into Kimball for her sophomore year, said she decided to preassign to Humanities House because she thought it would feature some of the things she liked best about SLE, including a self-selected group of interested students.

“I mainly wanted to live there because as a sophomore this year, I didn’t really get the dorm community that I had last year in SLE,” Peterson said. “I know that’s a freshman dorm thing, but I think it was really a special thing of having that intellectual community…I think there’s a chance for this new thing to be really great, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Philosophy major Truman Chen ’17, one of the RAs for Humanities House, said he wasn’t planning to staff, but heard about the new dorm through an e-mail forwarded to the philosophy department and decided to apply.

“I appreciated that Stanford’s going to try to bring more focus back to the humanities,” Chen said. “I felt like I could really help in that process, and it’s something I’ve cared a lot about, as in making humanities more prominent and trying to make sure that people that come to Stanford know there’s humanities in the world as well.”

Although all the preassignees to Humanities House share an interest in the humanities, many also have other interests. Forty-three out of 90 future residents who have declared a major are majoring outside of the humanities. Thirty are humanities majors, and 17 are double-majoring between the humanities and natural or social sciences.

Coggeshall said she imagines at least some of the dorm programming and events will be open to students living in other residences. Ideally, she said, the Humanities House space will become an inclusive place where interest in the humanities can thrive and undergrads can have serious conversations about things they’re interested in.

“I think that we have a tendency to talk about the humanities as if they’re sort of the ugly stepsister of the STEM fields — at least I think that’s kind of the rumor among undergraduates,” Coggeshall said. “I don’t think that’s actually the case in undergraduate culture. And so what I’m excited about is showcasing how much interest there actually is in the humanities, not only among students who are majoring in the humanities but also among students who are not officially humanists but who practice that kind of questioning in their daily lives.”

Contact Emma Johanningsmeier at ejmeier ‘at’

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