Stanford students are obsessed with themes. Every year, freshmen arrive on campus at the steps of “Larkindergarten,” “Serra Palin,” or “FroSoCommunication,” eager to meet their new housemates. It’s so much more exciting to arrive at an otherwise theme-less freshmen dorm, thanks to a clever pun that has instant personality. (“Hakuna Zapata” is clearly cooler than plain “Zapata.”) RA’s spend three weeks of RA training before school learning necessary First Aid, mental health support skills and, of course, bonding with the other staff. The main way that’s accomplished? Theme. Brainstorming. When the rest of the student body gets to campus on move-in day, RA’s are judged to see if they’ve lived up to the challenge: will Slav staff outdo “Slavocado?” Can they do better than “X Mars the Spot” or “Notorious Z.A.P.?”
Some theme row houses and dorms, like the Community Service theme dorm in Branner or Italian theme house La Casa Italiana, make community building that much easier. Who doesn’t like cooking breakfast for underserved Palo Alto residents or eating homemade pizza with friends? Stanford students also like house themes, both formal or informal, because it’s another reason to drink in the name of community, like Wine and Cheese on Wednesdays at “the snobby co-op” Kairos (that’s not really snobby), vodka shots during a screening of Anna Karenina at Slavic-themed Slavianskii Dom, or Wine Tasting Class at French-themed La Maison Francaise. Non-themed Xanadu house residents drink, well, everything, because…it’s Kappa house?
Perhaps most importantly, house themes are also an excuse for Stanford students to act like crazy college kids in the name of house unity. Vegetarian co-op Synergy house and “Social Change Through Non-Violent Action” Columbae house residents get naked and paint each other like their hippie forefathers (and foremothers!), Durand residents host the yearly “Durandom Hookup” party, and 680 throws Exotic Erotic because when you live on frat hill you have to throw down like a frat. My house next year, non-themed co-op Chi Theta Chi, starts the year off with a residents-only “Special Party” that’s so special I can’t even tell you about it. And yes, we take communal showers.
But truth be told, as much as Stanford students like to consider ourselves clever, outrageous, or revolutionary for embracing theme dorm culture, the houses profiled in this NYTimes.com slide show show us the true meaning of a theme dorm. Civil-War-Reenactment House anyone?