Jack Dowell ‘21
Just under two thirds of women at Davidson join an eating house during their college careers, and self-selection is one of the defining social moments of spring semester. But not everyone who decides to join one of the four eating houses retains membership for the next three years, and somewhere between 5-10 people leave each house every semester.
Emma Tayloe ‘19 joined Warner Hall Eating House the spring of her first year and ended up dropping it the fall of her junior year as the house became less important in her life.
“I was living in the Sustainability Co-op my junior year and was getting a lot of my meals there. I had a lot of social time with other people as they were around the house … And then it was also one of my busiest semesters,” she recalled.
Eating houses, according to Erica Miller ‘19, Connor House’s president, “offer sisterhood, a common connection, another place to get food, another philanthropic outlet … and just a common connection among a group of women.” But two issues that generally lead to members dropping are the large time commitment and financial dues each semester.
According to Miller, when she talks to departing members of Connor about their reasons for leaving, “typically the response I get is split between commitment, they didn’t realize how large of a commitment it was, and not seeing the benefits for what they’re paying.”
Concerns about time are one of the most common reason members drop their eating houses. “We all balance crazy stuff here at Davidson, and sometimes you’ve got to cut something out,” said Claire Thompson ‘19, Warner Hall House’s president. “It’s a little harder to be a very passive member of Warner. I think it’s a thing people need to be aware of.”
Ashley Frye ‘19, a former member of Connor House, returned to Davidson after being away from Davidson for a year and a half. “I didn’t really miss [Connor] when I wasn’t there, and I didn’t want to waste time doing things that I wasn’t particularly passionate about,” said Frye.
A concern shared by Patterson Court Council (PCC) as a whole is first-year expectations. According to Julia Caldwell ‘19, Turner House’s president, “Something PCC is working on is people not having a good idea of what eating house expectations are. I think the culture for explaining eating houses for first years is that you can make it what you want it to be. And that’s not really true; there are expectations you’re expected to uphold.”
Thompson echoed the concern, mentioning, “Elia Ramirez [‘19], the Eating House Ambassador [to PCC] has come to a lot of eating houses and said, ‘you should make the expectations more clear for members in terms of how many hours you’ll be working in the house.’”
A second common reason for people leaving eating houses is the cost of membership. Daisy Jones ‘19, a previous member of Turner House, mentioned that living in an apartment gave her “another way to get food and controlling more of how I’m spending my money, instead of having to pay dues.”
Frye also cited financial concerns as a cause of her departure from Connor, saying that “there were money issues; [leaving] was cheaper since I didn’t eat there usually.”
Unlike with commitment and expectations, communication about fees is less of an issue. Frye explained that the house executive board “were totally up front about the fees; they were totally accomodating to other people who had the same [money] issue.”
While Thompson “wishes so much that money didn’t have to be a factor in a woman joining a community,” she noted that “we do have to pay for gas and utilities for the house, and we do lease the house from Davidson, so there are some outward expenses.”
Erica Urban, the PCC Advisor, discussed the financial duties of PCC organizations, noting that they “have a lease with the college renewed annually,” and that “the organizations currently pay $1,500 per year in rent … based on maintenance expenses… organizations are also required to have one million dollar liability insurance… organizations who employ cooks also are required to pay for worker’s compensation insurance.”
Urban stated, “If an individual drops through Eating House Member Movement [EHMM], the individual is not responsible for dues for the following semester…[but] if an individual drops after EHMM is completed, the organization’s leadership can decide if they will refund an individual’s dues.”
Other concerns cited relate to the culture of the house. Thompson mentioned that “for some people, maybe the drinking culture or social aspect of the house is not what they’re looking for.” Miller spoke about how “we promise girls a sisterhood, a common identity, and it’s hard to promote a common identity in a house of 150, almost 200 girls.”
The eating houses are considering changes to address these common causes for leaving. Thompson mentioned that “rehashing our house’s budget to … prioritize… financial aid would be a great way of moving forward.”
Cardwell cited a Turner initiative to “get more input from the house… we’ve been having more small group discussions about what we want the culture to look like.”
Still, some students want to see new alternatives on campus. “I would be more receptive or more open to something like interest houses in places of eating houses and fraternities, and that way, there’s not as much of a gender divide,” said Daisy Jones ‘19. “That way you can build friendships with people based on a common interest, rather than a computer algorithm.”