As students finish filling out next year’s housing applications, the University is looking back on the first year of the house model to make changes for the future.

Housing applications for the 2013-2014 academic year will close this week. The University is beginning to evaluate the success and failures of year one of the new housing model, which aims to create equitable housing options for independent students and foster community through houses comprised of sophomores, juniors and seniors. Although houses will stay in the same location, there are some changes next year to the application process. Additionally, groups will not be able to apply for new locations, and new houses cannot join the model.

“We’re off to a good start…. It’s begun about how we expected, and our hope is that we see more of the houses start to establish more of a sense of identity,” said Joe Gonzalez, associate dean for Housing, Dining and Residence Life. “Our responsibility is to make sure that they have the support and resources that they need.”

Among the several changes to the housing application, students can now rank houses in order of preference and can choose to live in a gender-neutral house. Three houses on West Campus and two houses on Central Campus have been designated as gender-neutral, and any co-ed selective living group with a house in Few Quadrangle, Kilgo Quadrangle or on Central Campus can choose to become gender-neutral, as well, noted sophomore Jacob Zionce, Duke Student Government vice president of residential life.

Students can now block with anywhere between three and eight people, Zionce added. Last year, students could only block with a total of two, four or six people, causing issues when one person dropped out of a six-person block, forcing that block to drop or add one more student to maintain an even number. Now students can block with an even or odd number of members—up to eight total.

He noted that much of the house model has worked well, particularly creating sorority sections on Central, but there are still improvements to be made for independent houses.

“It’s hard to judge a whole model based on one year,” Zionce said.

Student response

Overall, independent houses are on their way to providing a more equitable housing experience, said sophomore Cameron Tripp, president of independent Kilgo house Marquis. The Independent House Council meets once a week to discuss how each house is improving their community and to collaborate on how to continue encouraging unity.

“There are still things that need to happen, and we’re trying to make those changes occur,” Tripp said. “Administration has been great about trying to find out what we still need and how to support us as best as they can.”

Tripp said he has encouraged community among the house through programming events like study breaks and a Super Bowl party. The house recently installed Marquis signs throughout the halls to designate their community.

“In years to come, they’ll appreciate having those [signs] that set us apart from other houses,” he said. “The administration has been really involved in consulting with independent house leaders in what needs to be changed and what can help close any gaps between independent housing and SLGs.”

One issue he noted was Duke’s alcohol policy, which requires that houses hire University-approved bartenders for social events involving alcohol—dipping into their limited funds. A requirement that is not necessarily a problem for SLGs that collect dues.

“That’s how it works if any SLG wants to have a Duke catered event, but [SLGs] have dues in a separate account that they can buy whatever they want with,” Tripp said.

Junior Gabby Hodgins lives on Central Campus in the Alpha Phi sorority section. With the implementation of the house model, this is the first year in which sororities have living sections. She plans to live in the same house as a senior because she has so far enjoyed the experience, and the house model guarantees her a returning spot in the Alpha Phi house.

“I have absolutely loved Central,” she said. “It’s an awesome balance of having the perks of being on campus while at the same time having the freedom of apartment style living. As a member of a group, I knew I had a spot in the section to live in if I wanted, which made it much easier than trying to find a lease for an apartment off campus.”

Sophomore Courtney Murray also lives with her affiliated group as a member of Cooper House, located on West Campus in Crowell Quad. Cooper House had an on-campus section before the new housing model, so Murray said she understands the community that the model aims to create.

“My friendships really grew because I lived across the hall from my best friends,” she said. “I think that in about five years the housing model is going to work very well. People are going to see the importance of living together, and they’ll realize that this community aspect is very important and integral to their Duke experience.”

The years ahead

Moving forward, the DSG Committee for Residential Life aims to evaluate data from housing applications on the number of seniors applying for on-campus housing, Zionce said. Zionce also chairs the Year Two Committee, an administrative group with student representation that seeks to evaluate and adjust the current model. The committee is currently developing a process for groups to create new houses.

Administrators are discussing future renovations to East and West Campuses to accommodate more houses and the growing student body.

“There are no hard plans on what happens next or when, but it would allow us to create spaces that are more appealing to upperclassmen, especially seniors,” Gonzalez said.

He said that administrators have considered adding a new residence hall on East Campus, renovating Craven and Crowell houses on West Campus and even building new residences on West Campus. There is no current discussion about significant renovation or new residences on Central Campus. But 60 percent of apartments on Central Campus will undergo enhancements this summer, Gonzalez said. Student housing at Duke will continue to develop and evolve as the model begins its second year, Zionce said.

“We want to make sure that the houses grow in a holistic, organic manner, and we want to let the students decide how they want to get involved,” he added.