New Couches

The most fundamental tenet of a Caltech undergraduate education is training students to collaborate effectively in order to solve the most difficult problems in science and math today. And yet, the sanctity of every common lounge space in every undergraduate house, the home of collaboration, is at risk due to a recent renovation effort by the Housing Office.

House stewards are students responsible for facilitating communication between the houses and the Housing Office. Stewards were initially very excited by the news that the housing office was planning a full remodel of many common lounge spaces including new couches, tables, carpets, and paint. An email was sent out to house stewards by Associate Director of Housing, Joe Bennethum on July 20th, 2023, which expressed a very tight timeline for ordering the couches for all residences. Stewards were given a window between 3:14pm and noon the following day to stop by the housing office and choose color samples, with no additional opportunities to weigh in on supplier, quality, style, material, or delivery date.

Due to safety regulations relating to fire hazard (among other things), the Housing office is required to adhere to fairly strict guidelines regarding any furniture put into public spaces. The office chooses furniture selections from a particular catalogue and supplier to be sure any furniture purchased meets the guidelines. Allegedly, the new couches in particular were selected because they are the most comfortable in the catalogue, though the standard of comfort must be difficult to communicate through a written catalogue.

When Blacker Hovse finally received the replacement couches last week, everyone was disturbed to realize the extent of the damage caused by this “upgrade.” The new couches are very small and uncomfortable. They have single handedly transformed our beloved homes into stuffy corporate lounge spaces. Imagine settling in after a Tuesday night power hum to work on your sets for the week, and in the place of your favorite cushy leather couch is a roughly one-half scale replica; rough upholstery stretched neatly over what must be a large stack of plush cardboard. Given that mental health at Tech is on the decline and cheating on the incline, the loss of nearly every comfortable space to work collaboratively or decompress socially in the undergraduate houses is sure to raise students’ frustrations. This disregard shown to the quality of student experience is horrendously unbefitting one of the most prestigious academic institutions in science.

Where is the failure in the chain of command that allowed for the destruction of student run, house owned spaces at such a large scale? This incident is indicative of a much greater legacy of Caltech admin offices refusing to maintain any accountability to student leaders or the student body they represent. According to Ricketts House Steward Daniel Amelinez-Robles, “we were told we can’t have them back…they’re going to get swapped no matter what.” Old couches were presumed to be tossed out in the dumpster, but Administrators have alluded to couches in good condition being repurposed in non-house spaces across campus. Hopefully in the coming weeks, stewards will receive more answers about the relocation of student couches, and a solution for the new universally abysmal seating options across all undergraduate houses.

Blacker and Lloyd have already suffered this fatal blow to comfort, and now the rest of us must wait with bated breath until the rest of our homes are butchered.