Santiago Navia

Not many students know how eating houses first appeared at Davidson, and there’s even a few that are oblivious to the fact that several co-ed eating houses were once present on campus. The whole story dates back to 1971. In an effort to remove a reproachful bidding system and allow first-years to have a personal choice, Davidson College imposed a self-selection policy on all fraternities on campus. As a result, three of them lost their charters and cut ties with their national associations, while another two opted to move off-campus to avoid the controversial change in protocol.* The vacant spaces left behind evolved into eating houses.

Initially, these were all-male eating houses, but with the admission of women into the college in 1973, many of them turned co-ed. Perhaps one of the most amusing and creative transitions was that of Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) fraternity. In order to preserve the same letters, the members of the newborn eating house decided to name it “Apple-Turn-Over”. ATO went co-ed in 1973, dissolved ten years later, and in its place stands what is now Warner Hall. A similar story is that of Fannie & Mable. When Kappa Sigma fraternity folded in 1971, the house was transformed into an all-male eating house that was subsequently named after the two cooks, Fannie Brandon and Mable Torrence. Like ATO, it turned co-ed in 1973, ceased to operate in 1985, and was replaced by present-day Connor House.

Emanon (“no name” spelled backwards) and PAX were two other co-ed eating houses that came into existence after the 1971 self-selection policy was introduced. Three years later, Et Cetera (ETC) co-ed eating house was created, primarily due to the efforts of the class of 1977, the first to include women. With this final addition, the list extended to five co-ed eating houses. These five would continue to co-exist for almost ten years, until, in 1983, ATO would disappear. Within the next seven years, co-ed eating houses progressively disappeared, such that by 1990, none would remain.

In the meantime, women were pressing for an all-female space on the court. Such initiative was met with opposition and skepticism, a resistance fueled by the prospective idea of sororities arriving to campus. After much rallying, especially by the first class of women admitted in 1973, the first all-female eating house, Rusk, opened in 1977. Warner Hall followed suit in 1982 and three years later, another all-female eating house was put together: Spencer House. The latter would be replaced by Connor House in 1991, and to complete today’s picture, Turner House was built in 1998. As co-ed eating houses faded away into oblivion, all-female eating houses replaced them and gave birth to what we now associate with Patterson Court. However, there was an attempt to bring back co-ed eating houses in the year 2000. Ben Carter and Dane Erickson, both of them in the class of 2001, founded CoHo. Unfortunately, CoHo closed down in 2005 due to continual financial instability and membership shortage, both due to issues with self-selection procedures.**

Interestingly enough, ten years is a recurrent pattern in this story. Five co-ed eating houses co-existed for ten years; ten years went by between PAX and Emanon’s closure in 1990 and CoHo’s emergence; and now it’s been ten years since the last co-ed eating house was shut down. We are now in 2015 and perhaps it is healthy to bear in mind the history of co-ed eating houses when reevaluating our notion of inclusive spaces and gender-segregation on campus. RLO has done a fantastic job of introducing co-ed dorms, and the Multicultural House recently relabeled its bathrooms as gender-neutral. Similarly, SGA and the administration are cooperating to bridge multiple divides in our community (up vs. down the hill, upper-classmen and first-years, sub-free vs. non-sub-free halls).
On a personal note, I believe a co-ed eating house would be a great addition to all these changes. This is not to say that fraternities, sororities, or all-female eating houses are exclusive and divisive institutions that should be removed. Although I personally do not identify with fraternities, I respect people’s choice to be a part of them and I recognize the value of having gendered spaces. Nonetheless, I would like to see a wider array of options for those who feel more comfortable in co-ed, gender-neutral spaces.

An eating house or fraternity offers several leadership opportunities, a structured party scene, an alternative eating location, and a space for social gathering and community building. I have felt that I missed out on most of this because I do not identify with the nature of fraternities. It is preposterous to believe that we can or should create spaces that fit everyone’s preferences and are in line with their opinions, but I believe there is a large number of people on campus that would be willing to give a co-ed eating house one more shot. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I invite you to keep this relevant conversation alive.

*http://sites.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/fraternities-at-davidson-college
**http://sites.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/eating-houses

Santiago Navia `17 is a Mathematics major from Cali, Colombia. Contact him at sanavia@davidson.edu.