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Houses | History of the House System
History of the House System
The King’s College House System was launched during the 2004-05 academic
year as an innovative strategy for shaping the lives of King’s students.
the years leading up the start of the Houses, there existed a simple network of
men’s and women’s small groups for freshman students. As early as 2001, incoming
students were assigned to groups led by upperclassmen. These groups competed
against other freshmen groups in a “Freshman Competition,” the precursor to the
current House Competition. Not surprisingly, elements of the freshman
competition included: the Great Race, a drama contest, a basketball tournament,
team GPA, debate, and outreach.
During the 2002-03 academic year, the freshman
groups began to adopt creative names, such as Elohim Soldiers and Compassionate
Hippos, by which they would identify themselves. Such monikers, however, would
fail to have staying power. This prompted King’s faculty and staff to compile a
list of 67 historic figures who had left their mark on the world. The list
spanned 20 centuries and the globe. All but three of the nine current House
namesakes were on this list.
As the population of upperclassmen in the student
body increased, it became apparent that a new strategy targeting the development
of the entire community, not merely freshmen, was needed.
As the 2003-04
academic year unfolded, serious discussion of such a strategy was underway.
Student Development staff and other college administrators contemplated the idea
of a new, community-based model of student development. Thoughtful consideration
was given to a proposal by Duanne Moeller, then the Dean of Students. He urged
the creation of a King’s house system, one that would merge the best elements of
the fraternity-sorority system, with its focus on social life and student
leadership, with the best elements of Ivy League houses, with their academic
support and proximity to faculty, into a new model.
During this time, there
were 13 freshmen teams – 8 women’s and 5 men’s – meeting on campus every week.
Each had adopted the name of a notable historic person, chosen from the list
faculty and staff had compiled the previous year. The names of all five of the
current female Houses were adopted by a freshman group. Of the five men’s
namesakes in use that year, only one would survive as a House namesake - that of
By the spring of 2004, the decision had been made: Houses
would be launched at The King’s College. David Leedy and Cyd Kumi, the Directors
of Student Life, headed up the design process, with plans to begin implementing
the model in the fall 2004 semester. In the coming months, many administrators,
faculty and students would lend their input. Hundreds of hours of research of
related models would be conducted, including visits to Harvard and West Point.
The emerging model was one that would provide students with numerous
opportunities for social life, spiritual nurture, and leadership growth, yet
also support the academic life of The King’s College.
In August of 2004, 18
handpicked students gathered in the Founder’s Room on the 15th floor of The
King’s College. Each came with a commitment to start the House System at The
King’s College, though few understood what they were signing up for. They were
true pioneers, stepping forward to construct something that existed only in
It was determined that nine Houses would be started, five women’s and
four men’s. This number would accommodate the current student body and allow for
several years of growth before new Houses needed to be added.
The list of 67
historical leaders had been trimmed down to 20. This would be the pool from
which House namesakes would be chosen. To make the cut, a few criteria had to be
met. First, namesakes needed to be historic figures. Secondly, it was necessary
that they be statesmen who changed society. What would the world be without a
Susan B. Anthony, Winston Churchill, or Queen Elizabeth 1? Thirdly, they needed
to be public figures with name recognition, not those familiar only in Christian
circles. Lastly, while it was not required that they be individuals of explicit
Christian faith, it was necessary that they had displayed qualities worthy of
emulation. Sojourner Truth’s persistent opposition to slavery, Margaret
Thatcher’s iron will in the face of opposition, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s
sacrifice of his own life in an effort to end Hitler’s tyranny were all
On the final day of the August meeting, student leaders
concretized the names of the nine Houses. While most of the names were carried
forward from preexisting freshman teams, there were a few last minute changes.
The House of Martin Luther King, Jr. became the House of C. S. Lewis, the House
of Bill Bright that of Ronald Reagan, and the House of Mary McLeod-Bethune that
of Clara Barton.
In their first year, Houses had two student leaders, their
roles undifferentiated from one another. Given that each House only had 12 to 15
members, this simple leadership structure would suffice for the time being.
When new students arrived at King’s the following week, House leaders were ready
to give them a warm welcome. Incoming students were immediately incorporated
into a House community. Throughout the course of the year, House leaders
invested countless hours in building personal relationships with first year
students and leading them through an intensive Bible study curriculum.
formal mission statement of the House system was developed this same academic
year: Through student-led, mission-driven communities, the House System
equips students to shape the college today and the fabric of society tomorrow.
Each House also developed a personalized mission statement.
Competition was renamed the House Competition. This shift was accompanied by a
competitive spirit previously unseen among the students. Two women’s Houses,
Truth and Barton, would duke it out to the very end of the school year. In the
end, Barton would be the first House to ever win the House Competition, their
name proudly displayed on the House Cup.
Interregnum took place for the first
time during the fall of 2004, creating yet another venue for friendly
inter-House rivalry. Interregnum would not, however, become part of the official
House Competition until later.
Houses began to undertake significant efforts
to influence New York City through “City Engagement” projects. The House of
Thatcher partnered with Student Venture, a high school ministry, to reach
hundreds of urban youth. The House of Truth launched a campaign to oppose child
sex trafficking. In the coming years, the House of Churchill would sponsor a
“Subway Marathon” and raise tens of thousands of dollars to send high school
kids to evangelistic camps, and QE1 would assist battered women in their career
As the 2004-05 academic year progressed, it became clear that the
time and energy required to lead a House was too strenuous for two students. A
more elaborate leadership structure would be necessary to sustain House growth.
Hundreds of hours were spent designing and deliberating such a framework for the
Houses. By April of 2005, a new design was ready to be implemented.
the weekend of April 8-10, 2005, 50 students and 15 staff and faculty, met
together at a camp in the Catskill Mountains to implement this structure. Each
House would have a five member core leadership team, consisting of a President,
a Helmsman (responsible for new House members), a Chamberlain (resident
assistant), a Scholar (responsible for cultivating intellectual life), and a
Vicar (responsible for the fostering spiritual life). In addition to these
student positions, each House would have two advisors, one a faculty member who
would invest in the academic life of the House, and the other a member of
Student Development, who would coach students as they executed their leadership
duties. With slight modifications, this structure would carry the Houses forward
for the next several years. As no one had ever served in any of these roles,
much orientation and training took place during the retreat.
The weather was
unseasonably cold that weekend. Temperatures dropped into the low 30s at night.
Due to an unfortunate miscommunication, none of the leaders came outfitted with
appropriate attire or warm bedding. Since the camp was typically used in the
summer months, the rooms were not fitted for heat. The cold evening and morning
temperatures turned meeting rooms and sleeping quarters into virtual
On Sunday morning, after a long, sleepless night, everyone met
in the small, wooden chapel on the camp grounds. Most were shivering inside of
thick wool blankets borrowed from the camp. Even so, having spent the weekend
grappling with what shape Houses would take, they were eager to make it happen.
David Leedy spoke to the group on what it would mean to build the Houses and,
through them, the King’s community. He called upon all present to dedicate
themselves to building an enduring legacy at the college. Each person present
was given a brick. On one side, each wrote the name of his or her House. On the
opposite side, each wrote a word or phrase that encapsulated the manner in which
they would build. One by one, students, staff and faculty came forward to lay
their bricks on the floor, one atop the other. As they did, a wall began to
rise, symbolizing the rising foundation of the House System. These same bricks,
rough in appearance, can be viewed in the King’s Student Lounge.
leaders charged forward during the 2005-06 academic year. The nine Houses, each
of them in their infancy, had little history, few traditions, and no identities
to speak of. Students showed no lack of innovation and energy as they set to
designing traditions, inter-house social events, and initiation ceremonies. Some
Houses began to sponsor events for the entire community; the Houses of Lewis and
Thatcher hosted the “Red and Green Affair,” an all-student Christmas party, for
the first time that year. Likewise, The House of Susan B. Anthony began their
“Women of Influence” speaker series. Some of the initiation traditions Houses
use today had their beginnings during this period. By the end of the school
year, Houses would design House crests, which are prominently displayed on House
banners to this day.
There were challenges along the way. During the 2005-06
year, the college faced a retention crisis due to rapidly rising academic
standards. Many students, especially among the freshmen, were struggling to make
passing grades in their courses. A spirit of negativity and murmuring plagued
the community, with many students making plans to withdraw. This placed enormous
strain upon House leaders, as they worked earnestly to retain members of their
Houses. Struggling students were, unfortunately, concentrated in certain Houses;
the survival of these Houses, especially that of Thatcher and QE1, was
threatened. Thanks to persistent leadership, bolstered by encouraging support
from leaders in other Houses, every House weathered the storm.
As the Houses
grew in influence, student government found their influence diminishing.
Students generally showed more allegiance to their respective Houses than to a
centralized student government. A weakness in the original House System model
was thus revealed; there was no structure that allowed for House collaboration
on issues of common concern. Communication and training for House leaders was
centralized in Student Development yet, for all practical purposes, Houses
functioned as separate organizations.
In the spring of 2007, Ted Pantone, then
the student body president, joined with Student Development staff members to
propose a merger of student government and the Houses. The month of March was
marked by numerous debates and discussions of merits and concerns. Opposition
arose from within student government, the Houses, and the general student body.
By mid April, a formal proposal was put forth for a student body vote. The
motion passed; Houses and Student Government would combine forces into a new
governing body known as The King’s Council. By the end of the school year, a
constitution was formulated and an election held to choose the first King’s
Council President. Kiley Humphries became the first to preside over this newly
formed institution. All student organizations came under the umbrella of the
Council. The entire budget for Houses and students organizations, previously
managed by Student Development, was transferred to the Council. These changes
strengthened both the Houses and student government, resulting in greater
influence on the college and student body.
By the time the 2007-08 school year
dawned, the Houses and The King’s Council had clearly established themselves as
defining dimensions of student life. For upperclassmen and incoming students
alike, the Houses and the Council would be perpetual centerpieces of life at The
Since their founding in 2004, the Houses have positively
affected the lives of hundreds of King’s students every year and have touched
the lives of many beyond the walls of the institution. More than any other
initiative, the House System has fundamentally shaped The King’s College