House-systems and cliques at Smith

Photo Courtesy of ||  Smith’s housing system can cultivate a sense of cliques on campus, Zoya Azhar ’20 writes. 

Photo Courtesy of || Smith’s housing system can cultivate a sense of cliques on campus, Zoya Azhar ’20 writes. 

Zoya Azhar ‘20
Assistant Opinions Editor


One of the conversations I have been a part of at Smith, revolves around the topic of cliques. It is not hard to recognize all the groups on campus, small and large. 

It is also not surprising that they exist on a campus of so many opinions, especially as cliques serve as a refuge for certain groups. As a first-year I believed it was simply a by-product of the social system and how it functions; there will always be groups who bunch together and choose to be labeled as a group, and some of these groups are healthy for the campus and some aren’t. It is unavoidable. 

Lately I’ve been made to see how this dynamic may be affecting Smith’s social life on a systemic level. Students are split up into houses and although this is not at all strict demarcation when it comes to students’ friend groups, it does affect social life. 

Students are not given enough opportunities to mingle with people outside their established friend groups or outside their house communities. The major social traditions that tie Smith students together, which include Winter Weekend, Spring Weekend and Senior Wine and Cheese, are all linked to house social systems. 

Consequently, it is more common for students to partake in these events within house communities. Of course students may also choose to go as guests to another house’s social event, but the feeling of belonging is just not the same. 

And so if a student has lived in one house all four years at Smith, it is likely that the bonds they have with their house community are going to be a definitive part of their Smith experience. Somehow, the houses themselves begin to serve as glorified “groups” and contribute to the overall “grouped” feel that Smith’s campus often has. 

What if Winter Weekend was a campus-wide event? What if the whole campus dressed up and mingled? What if houses pooled their funds and held a concert on campus that everyone could enjoy? Not only does the individual responsibility on house leadership dramatically decrease (and the willingness to have more social events would probably increase, as a result) but we also get more of a social life on campus.

Of course it is not as simple as that and we cannot overlook all the benefits that come with Smith’s housing system, a feature the college prides itself on when admissions time rolls around. 

The house systems are relatively intimate, provide some semblance safety and security to most or some students and also let houses make decisions for themselves. But it may be worth exploring how much of an impact they have on shaping social life at Smith. 

As a sophomore I still believe that cliques are a by-product of how we socialize, but now I also think that the residential system reinforces the cliqueness. 

Each house community is very much removed from the workings of other houses and there is no ready flow of communication or ideas between houses. The closest thing we have to this is perhaps the communication that house leadership roles like House Presidents and Residence Life Student Staff share, and this communication is also limited to areas of campus and is not campus-wide. 

While there are certainly perks to this system, the impact it has on social life – something students frequently complain about – is worth looking into.