With senior year at Trinity comes the opportunity to live off campus. For most people, this involves either an apartment or a house with one to three other people. I, however, decided to go for the sitcom scenario of living in a house with five other guys, all members of the Iota Chi Rho fraternity, of which I am not a member. Now, after roughly six months of living among the frat guys, I have some reflections.
First, the good. In general, living in a six-people house creates a very nice sense of community. There are always people around, playing video games or working at the dining room table. Having a good variety of roommates is nice, and the conversations stay fresh. Very often I’ll have several good conversations in the course of one evening about both light and serious topics.
More than that, having several people in the house can result in a kind of spontaneous nucleation in which suddenly everyone hangs out and chats for a while, taking some time out of our evenings. This isn’t always good for productivity, but it’s certainly healthier than procrastinating by going on social media or watching Netflix alone in a dorm room.
An unexpectedly positive part of living in the house with five fraternity members has been getting a closer look into the actual functions of a fraternity, like Jane Goodall going to live among chimps. I’ve seen — in a way I didn’t appreciate before — the extent to which the brothers try to look out for each other and support one another.
I’ve also seen how personal disagreements and personality clashes within an organization can come to a head and be managed or healed. I’ve seen how they handle the administrative aspect of running an organization, how knowledge and traditions are passed down from generation to generation, and how the interplay of tradition, identity, change and fun is negotiated. It’s been gratifying and insightful to observe and I appreciate it a great deal.
Of course, there are downsides to living in a house with five members of a fraternity. The house often doesn’t get quiet until late into the night on weekends, and the weekend can sometimes be a Tuesday. As someone who tends to need quiet to fall sleep, having to adjust my sleeping schedule to hours I wouldn’t necessarily prefer has become part of life. Of course, this isn’t specific to living with frat boys, and would probably be the case for living with any large number of college-aged males.
By far the worst aspect of living in a house with five other guys, though, has been the kitchen. My god, the kitchen.
For background, my dad is a chef and just about every night for four years of high school entailed him coming home and getting angry that I had left dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter instead of washing them and putting them in the dishwasher. At the time, I resented what I perceived as much ado about nothing, but then, I didn’t cook in high school.
In a house, one has to cook and there really is nothing quite so bothersome as coming down into the kitchen in the morning needing to quickly scramble some eggs before class and finding the frying pan coated in muck in the sink.
That’s just the least of the horrors. Silverware is constantly left on countertops, disposable containers of mac and cheese powder are left by the stove, much needed spatulas disappear into rooms, pots full of residue are put in the sink to soak and left for days until no one remembers who put it there originally, and on and on and on.
I now understand why my dad was so bothered by me doing the same thing that my housemates do now. They are, of course, aware of my frustrations with the kitchen. But if it took my dad four years to drill cleanliness into just me, it’s not surprising that six months has been insufficient to train five of them. So that’s life.
Overall, I’m very glad that I made the living choice I did. The downsides — while frustrating in the moment — have been far outweighed by the unique upsides.
So, there are two takeaways. One, living in a house is great and I would definitely take it over an apartment. Two, living in a house with a large number of fraternity brothers is a unique, rewarding, sometimes frustrating experience that I would absolutely recommend doing once and then never again.