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Abstraction of The House System Radcliffe

Now in their Second Year, Radcliffe's Houses Are Beginning to Show Limited Progress

By Laetia Dow

RADCLIFFE, students returning to Cambridge last Fall found a disturbing change in the Quad: dorm doors had been painted red, yellow, and blue shades. The doors, girls learned later, symbolized President Bunting's reorganization of the nine 'Cliffe dormitories into three "Houses." Many 'Cliffies were resentful, thinking the President was determined to impose on them a Harvard blueprint for living. Gaudy doors, the initial - but un-Harvardian-feature of the system, were certainly not appreciated.

Now, a year and a half later, it has become clear that Mrs. Bunting had no blueprint in mind. She hoped that organizing the Quad into House units would improve faculty contract and make a wider range of activities available, she wanted the students themselves to explore the possibilities of the framework.

The doors on some dorms are once again painted in a uniformly drabcolor (a fact which reportedly has improved good night ceremonies on dates), but the House system has worked observable if not major changes in Radcliffe life.

One significant abstraction of the Harvard House plan was the appointment of Masters to head each House, and there is evidence that the Masters and their wives are making some contributions to the Quad. These have primarily consisted of bringing themselves and their friends to the 'Cliffe. While this service is not essentially different from that of the head residents, the Masters are an additional source of interesting people and powerful forces in persuading faculty that they want to come to Radcliffe.

Acting as administrative heads of the Houses, the Masters have been less successful. Appointments of specific faculty associates have been made, but these associates have been available only on a limited basis. In South House few of the associates are around much. In East House several associates eat lunch once a week in the dorms. In North House, only two young and single associates eat lunch often in the dorms, and they are always surrounded by 'Cliffies.

The House system has had no effect on Wednesday night dinners, traditionally faculty nights at Radcliffe. There has been little increase in faculty attendance, and the girls still consider sitting with a professor an ordeal. "I never can think of anything to say," admits one 'Cliffe, and another notes that "everyone just fires questions." The dinners have become a little less formal procedurally - in most dorms the girls no longer stand when the head resident leaves the table - but this relaxation is not a benefit of the House system.

Girls say that they enjoy the faculty teas and special interest dinners, such as the East House Government dinner, for the sherry and small talk. However, they insist that increased numbers of these activities create only illusory contact with the faculty. "You don't really get to know a professor if you only see him once at a tea," complained a girl. She and many others prefer continued, informal and personal contact with one or two faculty members.

There is a strong possibility that the House System will be able to improve faculty contact in the future. Plans for the fourth House include faculty units along Garden Street, and propinquity to Radcliffe will make visiting less of an effort. If 124 Walker Street is turned into apartments for married faculty, as has been suggested, these instructors would find it easy to drop in at Radcliffe for lunch. If tutors live near Radcliffe it will be reasonable to initiate more tutorials in the Houses. The architects asked to draw plans for the new House have proposed building one common dining room for Moors, Comstock and Holmes, and another for all the other dorms. Unlike those in Harvard Houses, the common dining hall will not be one huge room. The architects are considering dividing the area into alcoves of different sizes, possibly on different levels. Catherine Williston of North House, said, "The area may help us find a more civilized way of dining. In one alcove, a French club could meet; in another, one might have a tete a tete with her boyfriend." Such divisions may help Radcliffe achieve its long-sought goal of intelligent dinner conversation; tete a tetes seem unlikely.

The assignment of one dean to each House has been a marked improvement over the old administrative system, as it gives a dean more continuity in her relationships with students. Mrs. Jacquelyn Mattfeld, East House dean, points out that "we take students from the cradle to the grave academically. Under the old system, one dean dealt with picking fields of concentration and taking students through sophomore slump.

Another took care of recommendations for graduate school. Now each dean is responsible for the same girls through four years."

ENTERTAINMENT and cultural events have also improved. Jolly-ups held on a House level assure a larger turn-out of girls, and they have featured bands in contrast to the old dorm jolly-ups where a record player provided the music. The size of the units makes it practicable to offer movies within a House; the dorms were too small to support such programs. East House is now planning a series of movies to be shown in the Cabot game room. On a cultural level, the houses feel confident to sponsor speakers because they can draw on 400 girls for audiences. Last year, Norman Thomas spoke at North House and Eleanor Roosevelt visited East House. The East House committee has sponsored informal talks by professors, student panels, writers and career women. Polly Walker '63, president of Moors Hall felt that promoting such talks was North House's most useful function.

The House framework has stimulated few creative projects, however. Few students have suggested ideas. Several thought a play reading group would be helpful, but no one wanted to be responsible for organizing it. As many Radcliffe girls are already involved in English C or Harvard House the Radcliffe House does not enormous enormous demand to satisfy.

While no one has complained yet about too many activities, there is a fear that the Masters may start planning activities that are only busy work. In East House a suggestion from Master Kenneth Thimann that girls send books to Nigeria in the name of the House aroused concern that the Master conceive of the House as a girls' club. Girls do not want cultural or philanthropic activities on a small scale just for the sake of having them at the Quad. "That's too much like separate classes," one 'Cliffe remarked. Another admitted that "in the abstract I can think of talks that might be of special interest to women, but I can't think of any that I would go to." The Masters say that they want the impetus for activities to come from the students. They too want to avoid scheduling excessive events. Master Thimann contends that "a balance of activities must be sought. I want a minimum of activities limited by students' spare time."

HOUSE, loyalty and inter-House rivalries, supposedly a strong part of the Harvard system, have been consciously rejected in the Radcliffe version. The girls have no wish to abandon already strong dorm affections, and the Masters see no reason to change this. Master Martin "would be distressed if silly inter-House rivalry developed." In his view, the Houses should not "increase parochialism." Their best contribution is to make living a mile from Harvard yard "more than eating, sleeping and casual chatting." Athletics might require House loyalty, says Martin, thinking does not.

In fact, the Masters hope the Radcliffe House system will evolve into something quite different from the Harvard plan. "I didn't come to transplant Harvard," Martin said, and Thimann reasonably observes that "girls are different than boys," so "why imitate?"

The Radcliffe Houses may eventually involve into important entities, but despite the increase in activities and the concern of the Masters it has still failed to capture the attention of the majority of 'Cliffes. A girl's judgement of the system is quite naturally based on her own experiences, and only a few have participated extensively in House activities. Many have ignored them.

Girls on the House Committees and those who attended the Fall RGA conference at Ceder Hill are very enthusiastic about the whole thing. For most, though the Houses provide only a small, additional layer of substance to life at the Quad. The major attractions are still Harvard and Harvard men, and things are apt to stay that way.

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