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Opinion: The 5C Housing Exchange Program is well worth the “complications”

When I arrived at Claremont McKenna College my first year, I felt the way many students feel when they get to college: overwhelmed. But as I settled into my new home in Fawcett 503, I soon found an abundance of things I loved about living at CMC: an amazing roommate, a quick two minute walk to 6 a.m. cross country practice, a prime view of the sunset every night from the fifth floor, and the quiet study space just a few floors down. Yet, as my highly anticipated and idealized expectations of the “college experience” began to meet the reality of being an introverted person in a new place surrounded by (mostly extroverted) people I had only known for a couple months, I found myself feeling more and more isolated and unhappy. By the end of the fall semester, I was opting for green to-go boxes from Collins instead of eating with others, and spending most of my free time alone in my room.

Luckily, in the spring things began to look up. I grew closer with my teammates, joined a new club, and took my first class in CMC’s literature department. My closest friends soon became the amazing ladies in my year on my cross country team, most of whom attend Scripps College. I found myself spending most nights studying and hanging out at Scripps, always followed by the trek back to my South Quad dorm. The walk was nothing to complain about, but it was lonely.

I don’t quite remember how I first found out about the 5C Housing Exchange Program, but what I do remember is, for the first time, genuinely looking forward to living at school. I found someone from Scripps who wanted to live at CMC, went through the Scripps room draw process, and ended up in a quad with three of my closest friends. My sophomore year was one of the best of my life. While a lot of factors went into that, I believe the biggest was that I finally felt at ease in the space I was living.

People generally seem to experience a lot of confusion when I tell them that I have spent half of my time at CMC living on a different campus. It is shocking how often I’ve been asked the question, ‘Are you glad you came to CMC?’ My answer is, without hesitation, yes. I love being at CMC academically (special shoutout to the Literature department!). I have been very active on campus all four years, from Amnesty International club, to the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights, to writing for The CMC Forum. As it turns out, it is entirely possible to love the education and resources you are receiving, without loving the campus dorm culture (and honestly, the aesthetic). In fact, I believe it is the duty of a college to be cognizant of the fact that not every student is going to love every aspect of the school they are attending, and to provide resources for students to find a situation that works best for them. For me, that situation was living at Scripps, with or near my best friends, in a quiet and low-key environment, surrounded by fruit trees (sounds nice, right?). I don’t see how that preference has much to do with my personal academic and extracurricular fulfillment.

All this to say, when I heard the news that the Claremont Colleges ResDeans have decided to “discontinue” the 5C Housing Exchange Program, I felt shocked and gravely upset. Obviously as a senior this will not affect me in any great way. I am graduating soon, and will live out the last months of my college experience in my happy place: a spacious single room in Toll Hall, a few doors down from my best friend, with a window view of the Scripps rose garden. Yet, I couldn’t help but imagine how my first-year self would have felt if the 5C Exchange Program had been shut down that year instead. There were indeed some “complications” (to quote the February 16 email) that I had to traverse over the years: finding someone to switch with can be a trial, there was a fair amount of paperwork, somehow my key card never worked the first fews days, or perhaps my name was wrong on my door. But complications aside, I cannot even begin to describe how vital the program was to my overall enjoyment of my experience at CMC.

The reality of the Claremont Colleges is that students come here because they value the benefits of attending a Consortium: classes, or even majoring, at other colleges, shared resources, the feeling of a medium-sized college, and of course the absurd number of dining hall choices. The vast majority of students here have close friends from schools other than their home institution, are involved with 5C or multi-C activities, regularly attend classes with 5C students, and make constant use of the shared resources we have here. I don’t believe that students should be barred from making a mutually beneficial decision with another student to switch rooms. I have witnessed the process time and time again, and while I understand that the program does create some complications for the Colleges’ ResDeans, I certainly do not agree with the assertion that the program “posed more complications than benefits to all involved.” To assert that the benefits for all involved were outweighed by the complications of the program, is to assert that one of the most important parts of my— and many other students’ — college experience was not worth a 30-minute student-Dean meeting to fill out paperwork, and the time it takes to add the Scripps dorms to my key card access. But the Colleges’ ResDeans wouldn’t know the impact that this program has had on me, because they’ve never asked me about it.

In light of other recent announcements made by the Colleges— such as CMC’s withdrawal from the Keck Science Center, or even the not-so-subtle name change from “The Claremont Consortium” to “The Claremont Colleges”— it’s hard not to feel that this is just another move in the direction of disintegration. While I never anticipated living off of CMC’s campus before coming here, I applied knowing that I loved the idea of studying at a Consortium. We all use the benefits of the Consortium, some of us perhaps in more unique ways. Not all of us can fit perfectly with all the aspects of our home institutions, but that’s the beauty of studying here: students can pick and choose what works best for them. It might create some “complications,” but in my opinion, it’s what makes the Claremont Colleges special.


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