Surveying the Student Body: A Look Into The House System

"What makes Lawrenceville unique in comparison to other boarding schools?” is a question many prospective students ask when they visit campus, a question to which their tour guides most likely will respond, “Well, of course, Lawrenceville’s House system,” before they explain how each Circle and Crescent House is like a family with its own set of traditions and values.

“What makes Lawrenceville unique in comparison to other boarding schools?” is a question many prospective students ask when they visit campus, a question to which their tour guides most likely will respond, “Well, of course, Lawrenceville’s House system,” before they explain how each Circle and Crescent House is like a family with its own set of traditions and values. The House system makes up half of the School’s iconic “House and Harkness” slogan, but how does the current student body truly view the House System?

Although he hasn’t had the chance to learn much about the different Houses, Kieran Yeatman-Biggs ’24 could sense that there is “definitely a tight-knit community between the different Houses.” As a rising III Former entering the Circle, Sameer Menghani ’24 noted that the House system “makes a big difference in how a person’s experience at Lawrenceville will play out…and influences who you spend time with.”

Reputations of different Houses get passed from upperclassmen to underclassmen, giving students a general understanding of each House, whether that be from an athletic, academic, or arts standpoint. Despite their first impressions, students often find that Houses, more often than not, provide a welcoming environment, even if they did not end up in their first choice. According to Stanley House Prefect Betsy Kelly ’21, some of her best memories at Lawrenceville have been dance parties in the common room on Saturday nights after check-in with former Head of House Katherine O’Malley H’07.

For new III Formers, entering a House facilitates their transition to Lawrenceville, allowing them to connect with a smaller group of students within the greater School community. Despite feeling initially intimidated as new III Former, Chelsea Wang ’21 noted that she “quickly made friends with the other girls on her floor, also finding community through her advisory group in McClellan.”

However, the Houses can also be slightly overwhelming for new students. Bella Shroff ’21 recalled her first day at Lawrenceville as a new IV Former and a day student, sitting quietly in the House common room while returning students ran around hugging each other and excitedly moving into their rooms.

“The source of the majority of my issues as a new student stemmed from the fact that I didn’t have friends to lean on for a while,” Shroff said, wishing that she could have had more voice in the House she wanted to be in. John Weaver ’21 agreed that even for returning III Formers, it would be beneficial to “give students a little more leeway in the beginning [of the year] to familiarize themselves with the House.”

Clearly, a student’s experience in the Circle and Crescent is greatly shaped by the friends they are in a House with. Carina Beritela ’22 said, “I understand the point of putting different people together to foster a community, but if that community is not willing to happen, then you can end up stuck with people in a divided environment.” For Quinn Theirfelder ’22, her decision between claiming legacy to McClellan and going to Kirby was an easy one. “For me, it was about ending up where my friends [would] be,” she said.

Many students have noted a divide between Lower Housing and the rest of campus; however, according to Thierfielder this may not necessarily be a bad thing. Theirfelder recalled her II Form experience, stating, “By the end of my II Form year, I actually appreciated the divide, but not in an exclusionary manner. I think that being in Lower Housing forces you to get so close with your grade before you split up into different Houses.”

Regarding the dynamic between the Circle and Crescent, Ben Polaski ’21 said, “There’s a divide in how I can spend time with my male friends in the Circle versus if I were to go to the Crescent or V Form girls housing,” most likely due to visitation rules on campus. While Weaver appreciates the mini-community that Houses create, he noted that in the Upper House, he gets the “same sense of familiarity with members of the House that he had in II Form year.”

The binary nature of the House System can also make an uncomfortable environment for students of the LGBTQ+ community. Polaski quickly realized that “Circle House culture isn’t very queer-friendly and not truly a welcoming space.” In his IV Form year, Polaski decided to become a day student rather than board for his V Form year, in part due to the House culture.”

To provide a refuge for LGBTQ+ students, especially those who are gender non-conforming, implementing a gender-neutral House may be an option. Wang, who strongly advocates for the idea of gender-neutral housing, said, “It would provide a space for students who don’t necessarily feel like they can belong anywhere else and also erases a lot of the boundaries between the Crescent and the Circle.” Eric Frankel ’23 said, “I thought it was strange that Lawrenceville didn’t have the inclusion [for gender non-conforming students] because of its inclusion and diversity in other parts of its campus.”

Frankel, recalling his experience during his first Fall Term, said, “I found myself having to tell other boys that [some things are] not acceptable, especially with regards to LGBTQ+ related matters. It’s harder when it’s my own personal identity.” To ensure that Houses are more accommodating of the LGBTQ+ community, Frankel traced the roots of an accepting community back to Lawrenceville admissions. “We need to place greater emphasis on ensuring Lawrenceville is a safe and welcoming community for all,” Frankel said. “And that starts with those in the community in the first place.”

On accommodation within the current Lawrenceville community, Michelle Egu ’23 said, “People feel left out when they are not properly represented or heard, so Lawrenceville needs to go that extra step. I feel that at times Lawrenceville doesn’t make that effort.” Sameer Menghani ’24 remarked that Lawrenceville’s gender specific housing “invalidates the experience of those who are nonbinary at Lawrenceville and in life.”

There are some concerns regarding students taking advantage of co-ed housing and the implications of such housing on the current dynamic between the Crescent and Circle. Nonetheless, Wang believes that the School should integrate a gender-neutral House into the current system, allowing it to establish its own traditions and culture.

“One thing [that I appreciate about my House] is the love for one another and the sense of community and family, and if gender-neutral housing is the best way to go about achieving that for everybody, then it should be established,” Kelly said.

Lawrenceville’s mission statement begins with “House,” but every student experiences the House differently. According to Roddy Atwood ’22, “It’s really the relationships you have in your House that make it special. While there are things to be improved, I think most people appreciate the House system at Lawrenceville and have built strong relationships with those in their House.”

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