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Student Life

Student Housing: A History

August 26, 2021
On Campus Job

Living on campus has become a staple for American universities not only as a marker of social interaction but as a sharp transition into adulthood. Students living among their peers provides a space where they can be surrounded by those in the same life stages as them as well as build bonds that enhance their education and social spheres. There are many pros and cons associated with living on campus, but what strengthens the influence of student housing is that it has been supported and evolved since the seventeenth century. Many factors and differences in both the architectural development of dormitories and the integration of students represent the importance of college residency over time in both students’ educational lives as well as social development. 

How It All Began

The first residence hall was constructed at the Indian College at Harvard University in 1650 as an area of exclusion and segregation meant to keep the Native Americans separated from other students. As colleges were increasingly run by religious denominations, such as Protestants, the establishment of a residence hall quickly turned into a means of keeping university students in compliance with religious ideals and implementing moral standards. This made the influence of dormitories geared to strengthen integrity as well as education rather than implement social activity. As their use became more widespread, not all students agreed with the implication of moral standards and constrictive religious applications. Fraternity houses, established in the mid nineteenth century, became hubs for social activity, male bonding and finding future business partners. Greek organizations, therefore, served a prominent role in directing college housing towards social interaction and away from religious and moral practices. 

What Residence Structure Reveals About History 

The evolution of campus housing design reveals a great deal about the standards of different time periods and how this affected socialization. From the beginning of college residency, segregation of gender, race and monetary status became a key aspect of how college residency was structured. This is seen throughout different decades as many people of color were not allowed to live in the dormitories of white students up until the civil rights movement in the1960’s, and they were either given no living space or had to find living quarters where they would not run into other students. Fraternity houses noted a general difference in students who could afford to live in the upscale mansions provided by alumni versus those who were only able to reside in the cheaper college dorms., highlighting exclusivity. As more women began obtaining undergraduate degrees, universities designed female dormitories different from the male’s. In order to rear women towards their suggested domestic lifestyle, their residence halls were designed like houses with large parlors, living areas and more in order to entertain and focus on socialization. Their dorms were also built safer than others as women were seen to need more protection. Stark architectural differences are seen before and after World War II. After the war, colleges let go of the courtyard-style set up and adopted the modern high-rise architecture to avoid spending more time and money.

While it is interesting to note the different time periods and historical situations college residency has been through, it is equally important to recognize the many steps that were taken for on campus housing to become what it is today. There have been modifications, set-backs and progressions, all of which mark just how far these educational institutions have come. Through thick and thin, on campus housing has always been a reflection of the importance of not only entering adulthood, but finding ways to make public interaction and socialization a key part of each student’s education and future.