Photo credit: courtesy of Varun Soni
By Abigail Goh and Jared Ho
What do you want out of residential life at USP? What do your Neighbourhoods and Houses mean to you, and how do you think the two should function in building our USP community?
These were the questions at the heart of the House-Neighbourhood focus group discussions held last week, which were part of a review on the current state of Houses and Neighbourhoods. Students, alumni and members of faculty were present to voice their opinions and ideas on the topic in two sessions on Monday and Wednesday.
Here, The Cinnamon Roll gives you a (hopefully) simple and condensed overview of the discussion.
On Residential Life, Neighbourhoods, and Houses
On USP residential life in general, students voiced appreciation for the non-obligatory nature of activities in the RC, as compared to compulsory participation in halls. The importance of social and welfare support structures, i.e. Houses and Neighbourhoods, to complement residential life and to foster a sense of community was also highlighted.
But what, then, is the difference between Houses and Neighbourhoods, or by extension, House Captains and Residential Assistants (RAs)? There seemed to be some confusion with regard to this. Ideally, both aim to perform the same function: to create a home away from home. Houses and Neighbourhoods should work to create a tight-knit community of people of different faculties and interests, and therefore provide welfare and a sound support system for all students.
Problems with the Status Quo?
But several who were present at the discussion believed that there was a problem with the status quo of residential life in the RC. One such problem would be the lack of ownership over spaces in the RC, which leads to unpleasant sights in the toilets and pantries.
While different people will likely have different expectations for the Neighbourhood system, the general consensus was that Neighbourhoods should have a sense of community. At the very least, one should know the names of one’s neighbours, and know who lives in which room. But some voiced the opinion that Neighbourhood system seems slightly forced and contrived. As compared to the Houses, which are an incoming freshman’s first social group and their de facto induction into USP through the Freshman Orientation Programme (FOP), they reflected that it is difficult to build a community amongst even neighbours, since they lack a sense of familiarity with each other. Furthermore, others felt that RAs should not be given the responsibilities of social bonding because they are selected to perform administrative and logistical roles.
Also, it was suggested that some people might not like that there are too many social groups – on top of their neighbours, they still have classmates, housemates, and Interest Group (IG) mates – which may cause social fatigue and explain why social interaction in the Neighbourhoods can sometimes be lacking. Instead of having different platforms of social networks for interaction, it was posited that combining some of these disparate structures could solve this problem.
Avoiding Insularity and Divisiveness within USP
However, combining Houses and Neighbourhoods might restrict social choice; for instance, an individual may find it difficult to find a social group he/she is comfortable with without access to different platforms to meet different groups of people. Also, the amalgamation of these different systems means that whatever social structure remains could become too strong a unit, potentially breeding insularity within USP. This, some argue, can be observed under the current House system, especially among the freshmen, who tend to be closest to their housemates and hence spend most of their time with their Houses. On the other hand, others asserted that issues about insularity can and will arise with any structural system pertaining to social wellbeing. Moreover, it was acknowledged that the Neighbourhoods, unlike the Houses, were unable to include non-residents, which could give rise to exclusivity as well.
Besides non-residents, the challenge of integrating exchange students into the USP community was also recognised as an important consideration. In addition, fostering greater senior-junior interaction was also another point that resonated with many.
Inclusiveness and the question of creating a community inevitably led to the issue on whether residents should have a choice in selecting their neighbours, or if the current system of random assortment should be retained. Effectively, Houses and Neighbourhoods are both randomly assigned to students, although Houses are able to build on the camaraderie that comes from FOP. Conversely, IGs, which are groups of like-minded people who share similar interests, might be able to inspire greater passion in their members than Houses and Neighbourhoods. Thus, IGs could also play a central role in the social structure and support networks of USP.
Allocating Funds Efficiently
Inevitably, the discussion landed on the issue of funds. It was agreed that funding for social and welfare events should be allocated according to the reach of each platform and the overall “good” that is generated, so as to maximise the efficiency of available resources. For instance, if certain House or Neighbourhood events are deemed to be ineffective in reaching out to a sizeable number of people, or tend to deliver less in terms of the end results of social bonding and welfare, then they should receive less funding than other more “effective” activities.
In light of the many important considerations with regards to RC community life, a few different models of the House and Neighbourhood systems were proposed at both focus group sessions. Note, however, that these models are simply suggestions on the possible direction that RC community living could take; they are by no means the definite answers that USC has come up with.
Preserve the current system, but make efforts to integrate the Houses and Neighbourhoods more. There may be some problems with the status quo, but they are not significant enough to warrant an overhaul of the system. Also, change will not necessarily solve these problems. Furthermore, any integration of the Houses with Neighbourhoods will entrench them as solid units that could breed further insularity within USP.
Merge the Houses and Neighbourhoods completely and directly: the 18 floors in the RC will be divided into 6 Neighbourhoods for the 6 different Houses to occupy. All residents will have to reside within their designated House floors. This would eliminate the overlapping functions and aims of the Houses and the Neighbourhoods. It would also streamline the provision of social and welfare functions within USP and the RC, which could be more resource-efficient.
Rather than leaving the Houses and Neighbourhoods in their current state, or merging them completely, only some floors may be designated as House floors while residents who do not wish to live on the same floor as their House may stay on non-House floors. It was suggested that all freshmen live together on the same floor, since it has been noted that freshmen tend to be most attached to their Houses (through FOP, and because FOP does partly extend into Semester 1). Year 2s and above would have the choice of living with their House or otherwise.
Instead of living in the same room throughout one’s time staying in the RC, residents will be reallocated a new room every year. According to which floor you live on, however, you will be randomly re-assigned to a different “Kampong” (a provisional name for the new House or Neighbourhood-like entity that will replace Houses and Neighbourhoods) every year. This would purportedly eliminate the possibility of insularity developing amongst entrenched social groups.
What do you think about the Houses and the Neighbourhoods? Which model do you support? Let us know in this informal (and unofficial) poll or leave us a note in the comments!
Moving forward, USC management is collaborating with USP leadership in drafting a proposal which will address the issues raised during the review of the Houses and Neighbourhoods; expect that to be released in the coming week!