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Principia’s women are strong. They are talented. They are beautiful inside and out. And the upperclass-women live in the houses of Sylvester, Joe, Howard, and Brooks.
While the women on this campus associate themselves with different activities, sports, and majors, they live in the houses that best suit their unique individuality. It’s these individuals that make the houses what they are, and the houses constantly change while still maintaining distinct identities.
This time around, my strategy for finding sources was different than ever before. I decided to physically go out to each of the houses and simply knock on doors until I found someone to answer questions. The concept was much scarier than the actual experience. I found friends and acquaintances throughout the halls of the women’s dorms who were totally willing and open to answering my questions about why they love their college homes so much.
“Chill Syl” was not as quiet as one might expect on a typical afternoon. As I walked through a women’s hall, I heard talking, laughing, singing, and blaring music from almost every room. One particularly inviting song led me to senior Darline Ambugo’s room. Even though she was doing homework, she was very ready to discuss with a beaming smile what makes Syl special.
Ambugo said: “I love it here! There are so many different types of people here: athletes, artists, and chefs, so there’s always something going on. Any type of personality will fit right in.”
She also gave due credit to the Resident Counselors, Connie and Gary Crandell, for creating a warm, welcoming environment. Their apartment is filled with inspirational words and phrases; it really feels like a home.
As a sophomore joining the house this quarter after Ed Block in the fall, Sarah Howard found no problem finding harmony in Syl and making it her home. “I just came right in this quarter and I love it.” There is clearly nothing intimidating about this house.
On the other end of campus, Joe McNabb is just as warm and friendly to walk into, even if it’s missing the Maybeck architecture. The kindness of the women in Joe has had a big impact on its temporary RC, Mary Lou Kingsbery. She was quick to emphasize the house pride in each of the girls. “We had three girls running for the position of diversity head and three others for meta-head. It’s nice seeing that desire for involvement and enthusiasm to give back to their house. They all really love Joe.
The president of Joe, senior Jenny Ferch, was not without mention in Mary Lou’s rave review of the house. “Even though she’s over in Clara [as a Resident Assistant,] she’s been great about visiting us, interacting with the house often, making it to the meetings, and helping me out.”
After my meeting with the RC, incessant laughter coming from the living room guided me to find my next Joe sources. Sophomores Ashley Douglass and Erin Plum were model students, lounging on the comfy couches and surrounded by books and binders as they watched YouTube videos for Helen Mathis’ Four Gospels class.
Between the giggles and their search for the perfect Jesus Christ music video, I managed to find out what they love most about their house. Douglass started by saying, “I would not be living here if it [weren’t] for the people. They really make Joe all it is.” Plum added, “It’s very laid-back and non-judgmental. Plus, everyone’s eccentricity makes it so fun here!“
Joe’s partner in pulling off the ultimate party of winter quarter, “Ciao Down,” was Brooks House. The all-campus event was exactly what Brooks is all about. One of the presidents, senior Dani Corbitt spoke on the house’s theme this year: “We strive to be the giving house. We encourage the women in our house to be active, both in our house, but also on campus. There are a lot of RAs, abroad-goers, athletes, and campus representatives from Brooks, and that is no accident.”
I decided to ambush junior Marianna Hronek as she was working on homework in her room to ask her what she liked about her very involved house. “There’s a lot to love about a house where everyone is your friend. We have such fun house meetings, and our RC always makes us her famous monkey bread!”
Resident Counselor Louise Kingsbery found it just as easy to praise the women of Brooks. As if she’s selling deodorant, she describes the house as “a house for women that was built for men.” The house has gone through big changes over the years, as it went from all-male to co-ed, finally becoming an all-women’s house. But these developments haven’t stopped the house from establishing traditions like the always-popular Starbrooks shows. Louise said, “All houses interact differently, but we have something special here.”
What Louise does think all the houses could work on is finding time for more crazy times and play. “I haven’t seen that in a while. Noise and playful fun is a sign that people are relaxing and feeling like they’re at home.” I think that’s a suggestion we would all be happy to follow.
The house with the oldest traditions and the longest history is Howard House. Its timeless concept of sisterhood has lasted through the decades since 1934. The residents of Howard strive to truly represent what a woman is. Not only does the house have a healthy and loving bond with its brother house, Lowrey, but it’s constantly reinventing itself while refusing to let go of foundational values.
RC Christy Ellington likes to emphasize the period of change Howard is going through right now: “We are currently trying to figure out how to let go of past stereotypes but still maintain the fun atmosphere Howard has always had and allow for the individual freedom and flexibility that a house of strong female leaders demands.”
Every day, the women of Howard have challenges to overcome, and they are succeeding. Sophomore Amanda Cartwright spoke out against the labels put on each of the women’s houses. “We have women with too many interests and from too many backgrounds to be lumped into the same, one-word category.” As a newcomer, Cartwright is struck by the strong fellowship felt throughout the house. “All the women here support each and every one of their sisters’ involvement on campus.” The friendships made in this house are the kinds that last forever.
The houses on campus help shape the women of Principia College into the best versions of themselves. Not once in my interviews did I hint a sense of cattiness, snootiness, or “girly-ness” (not to be confused with true femininity). With models of womanhood represented fully in each of the dormitories on campus, it’s impossible to choose the wrong one. In the end it’s all about what you decide to bring to your house.
A house does not define the women on this campus. It is the women who help define their house.