Davidson celebrates decades of self-selection

Drew Eastland-

Clockwise from top left: The early days of Rusk House; Connor first year students on the morning of self selection; Spencer House Spring Formal 1990; members of Rusk before this year’s toppings. Photos courtesy of Davidson Archives, Haley Jobe ’20, and Sydney Mack ’19

The unique Davidson tradition of self selection occurred this past weekend. Last Saturday was marked by an early morning start as current eating house members stormed into first-year halls shouting out the names of those selected to their respective organizations. The process involved thirty minutes of chaos as the sun rose Saturday morning. A distinctly Davidson event, self selection has occurred since 1971, putting a unique spin on “down the hill” culture.

Davidson College self selection has not always been as popular as it is currently. In fact, the process was initially forced upon the student body by the administration, causing some fraternities to disband or move off campus. However, the tradition grew and is now integrated into Davidson student life.

“Eating houses at Davidson straddle the line between social organizations and fraternities,” stated the Archives’ and Special Collections Eating Houses Encyclopedia webpage. “They offer the same social and dining opportunities as Davidson College fraternities, but unlike fraternities, eating houses do not have national affiliations.”

Patterson Court was constructed in 1958 and named after William S. Patterson, class of 1903. It has housed a variety of organizations over its sixty-year existence, and currently consists of thirteen small houses and Vail Commons dining hall.

According to Davidson’s archive on Patterson Court history, since 1958, Patterson Court has been home to thirty different student organizations, residence halls, and dining establishments.

While current eating houses restrict their memberships to only women, this has not always been the case. There have been both co-ed and men’s eating houses on campus. When Davidson first introduced self selection in 1971, the college did not admit women.  While women were first admitted to Davidson in 1971, they were not included in self selection until 1977, when they created Rusk House of their own accord.

“There was soon a rallying cry for an all-female eating and social venue on the Court,” according to Davidson’s Archives and Special Collections Eating House encyclopedia. “The first all-female eating house, Rusk, finally opened in 1977.”

“Opponents of an all-female eating house usually feared the arrival of sororities,” stated the Archives and Special Collections’ entry on Rusk Eating House in its encyclopedia. “Supporters of such a house argued that the house would be non-selective and non-national.”

Of the four current women’s eating houses on campus, Rusk was the first to open its doors. Named after Dean Rusk ‘31, a former U.S. Secretary of State, Rusk began in the spring of 1977. Rusk quickly grew in popularity and by 1980 required a waitlist.

According to the Archives and Special Collections encyclopedia, “The first all-female house on Patterson Court, Rusk Eating House helped pave the way for the modern court”.

Due to the exponential growth of Rusk, Warner Hall was introduced to campus in 1982. Connor followed in 1991 and Turner in 1998.

Davidson also previously offered co-ed eating houses. Some of these included CoHo, ATO (apple turn-over), PAX, and Emanon. However, these were relatively short-lived experiences.

Emanon and Pax  both began after the College introduced self selection to Patterson Court. The name Emanon is “no name” spelled backwards. Ultimately, both groups had folded by the 1990s due to declining popularity.

CoHo was a more recent attempt to revive the idea of co-ed eating houses on campus. The house began in 2000. CoHo struggled to gain traction amongst Davidson students. It was also negatively affected when PCC decided to allow women to reject CoHo if they were selected. By 2006, CoHo had worn out its welcome with the Davidson Community.

Some students on campus have discussed bringing back co-ed eating houses. Whether or not that happens ultimately depends on the PCC’s willingness to re-experiment with co-ed eating houses.

“I know [women] that said they would’ve joined a PCC establishment if there had been a co-ed option,” Sarah Hancock ‘21 said. “We should bring back co-ed eating houses.”

Despite being restricted to women, this year’s self selection was nonetheless packed with excitement. Saturday consisted of a three-part process: self selection, house bonding, and toppings. Self selection began at 7:00 am and was followed by organization bonding at each house. That night, during the toppings phase, new members of the house were covered in their house’s respective toppings: condiments, shaving cream, chocolate syrup, or paint.

“I was just standing there with my eye at the peephole for like twenty minutes,” said Courtney Clawson ‘21. “When Rusk knocked on my door I was so relieved because I got my number one [choice], and they didn’t forget about me.”

Other students expressed similar nervousness and excitement surrounding self selection day.

“I woke up at 4:30 because I was so excited,” Marianna Ghirardelli ‘21 said.

The only complaint about the whole process seemed to be the inability to cluster with more than four other first-year women. Eating houses allow students to cluster with a group of friends to ensure each person is placed in the same house; however, this is capped at four.

“I would…make the clusters bigger,” Ghirardelli said. “It was kind of hard to say four of us go in one cluster, three of us go in another, and hope that we get our first choice.”

Another key component of eating houses is the service element; this plays some role in which house the Davidson women join. Rusk is focused on food insecurity in Davidson and the general Charlotte area, Connor on breast cancer early detection research, Turner on leukemia awareness and heart disease prevention, and Warner on HIV and AIDS research and treatment.