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Please don't take CANOE house away!

April 16, 2012 at 9:47 am
By Marlena Hartman-Filson, '13

This weekend, I received an upsetting email: after considering all the applications for next year's interest houses, ResLife has decided not to renew CANOE as an interest house. Each year, all existing houses and proposals for houses are required to submit applications to ResLife detailing how they would/how they do add to the Carleton community. I'm not exactly sure how the process works, but I know they then gauge interest in the house and assess how well the house reaches out to the rest of the student body through activities and events before approving the house for the next school year. Some of the current houses include Women's Awareness House, Farm House, Queers and Allies House, SciFi House, Dacie Moses House, Multicultural House, and Fitness House.

CANOE (Carleton Association for Nature and Outdoor Enthusiasts) house as been a staple of the Carleton outdoors community for at least 25 years. I lived in CANOE for four terms, beginning fall term sophomore year, and I'm proud to be part of such a long history of adventurous Carls. Despite having almost 45 applicants for thirteen spots in next year's house (as far as we know, this number is higher than it's ever been), ResLife feels that all the main goals of the house could be fulfilled by the club alone and a residential space is not necessary. Additionally, they critiqued the house for "lacking vision and new ideas".

This is not meant to be an unproductively grumpy blog post, but I am a bit surprised that ResLife would, without any prior criticisms or warnings, nix a house and community that has been such an enormous part of my happiness at Carleton.

During my time living in the house, my housemates and I worked hard to keep longstanding traditions alive and implement new activities that connected the house to the broader Carleton community. The Black Bean Burger BBQ in the fall, the long underwear party in the winter, and the EcoChallenge in the Arb in the spring are staple CANOE House activities, and in the last couple years we've added pumpkin carving, Planet Earth Week, igloo buildling and a spring pig roast to the list. The house provides a meeting space for CANOE club board members, a place for CANOE club members to brainstorm, plan and organize their next trips, and a warm, welcoming home for friends of the outdoors.

Many of my best Carleton memories and most lasting friendships have come as a direct result of living in CANOE house. As a year-round varsity soccer and ultimate frisbee player, I almost always have practices and games on weekends. Because of this, I've only been able to go on two CANOE club trips in my three years at Carleton. Both of these were fantastic experiences - my freshman year I went on Book Across the Bay and last year I went on a dogsledding trip up in the Boundary Waters - but I can't say they provided me with lasting connections with most of the other students on the trips. I initially applied to live in CANOE because I wanted to live in a house with a group of people who were excited to be young and alive and able to frolic around in leaf piles and snow drifts and spring rain. Although I understood I would never be able to be as active in the club as I wished I could be, I knew that the sophomores and juniors and seniors who lived in the house would share my love for adventure and passion for the outdoors. I was right; I have fallen in love with my housemates in a way I never imagined I could.

CANOE house fosters a community that extends outside the walls of the house and even outside of Carleton. For me, the free time in which I can explore the outdoors comes mainly over winter and summer breaks. Last winter break, a past and (at that time) current CANOE house member, a mutual friend and I all found ourselves in the San Francisco Bay Area with a free week. And so we decided on a whim to go backpacking in the Grand Canyon. Last summer, a CANOE house friend visited me in Colorado and we went on a weekend excursion to the snowcapped peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. Because of the close friendships I made while living in CANOE, I now have connections with explorers and adventurers all across the US (and abroad!). This is not a community I could have found easily through CANOE club nor on the general campus.

News that ResLife has chosen to discontinue the house for next year has come as a bit of a blow, but I am not disheartened. I understand the school's desire to make room for new interest houses and I am confident we can work with ResLife and help them find a way of doing so without nixing an integral part of the Carleton community. Current and past house members have already begun to organize letter writing, tabling at Sayles, meetings with ResLife and class deans, alumni outreach, and campus awareness activities and petitioning. And if it doesn't work out this year, we will come back in full force with an unbeatable application next year. We will do everything in our power to ensure that CANOE house remains a home base for happy, goofy, energetic people who are passionate about exploring and adventuring in the outdoors.


The house

Fall 2011

Fall 2011




A spring BBQ with CANOE club members



Soaking up the outdoors





Creating a miniature indoor garden



Building an igloo






set + stress baking





Planning CANOE trips

story time


House dinners


stress baking



Backpacking in the Grand Canyon over winter break

grand canyon

grand canyon

grand canyon


Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer




Bonding with some of Carleton's most loving, goofy, energetic and caring people


(photo by Kai Knudson) 


  • April 16 2012 at 4:53 pm
    May Dixon
    I had so many wonderful experiences at Carleton, but a disproportionate number of them happened during my senior year, when I lived at CANOE house. CANOE house is the central gathering place for the outdoorsy at Carleton, and for me it represents the best of Carleton. It is an incredibly inclusive, quirky, energetic and happy place-- and is so much more than it's scheduled events. Every night there are (or were) out-loud readings, impromptu sing-alongs, and small adventures of all sorts. Now, when I return to Carleton, Canoe house is where I visit first and last. CANOE house will always be the culture that I try to promote with my monetary donations to Carleton. I hope so much that it will continue next year--- its disappearance would be a grave loss to my memory of Carleton, and to the prospective students considering what Carleton can offer them.
  • April 16 2012 at 9:38 pm
    Ellen Farnham

    I think the return of the WHOA community will be great for campus, but it should NOT have come at the expense of CANOE house. These house decisions keep getting more ridiculous.

  • April 16 2012 at 10:28 pm
    Nora Cassidy

    I only lived in CANOE house for one term, but it was absolutely fantastic. I applied because I wanted to live with happy fun-loving people who would push me to try new things. I got my wish, but more importantly, I got twelve new wonderful friends. As I sat in a rocking chair in the living room for three days straight writing my final papers, there was always a constant stream of smiles and support from house members and house visitors because CANOE's community is not just the residents. CANOE house has always been completely open as a space for all Carleton students--I can think of few other places on campus that can boast the same open and loving atmosphere nor such comfy couches. Visiting and living in CANOE have been formative experiences in my life; I would hate to think that others couldn't have that same opportunity.

  • April 16 2012 at 11:48 pm
    Steven Aviram
    Carleton is a school that supposedly prides itself on diversity. My freshman year, President Rob Oden famously quipped, "There is no average Carleton students" yet, it seems that the Carleton administration wants to push more and more to create a uniform, archetypal student body. Do the Carleton administrators think that hippies and crunchy kids are not an important part of Carleton anymore? These were the types of kids who initially attracted me to Carleton. Giving them a home like Canoe House reflects a dedication by the college to support a multitude of different personalities, far more than some other interest houses. How do "fitness house?" or Culinary House (aka Daisy Moses 2) add to the Carleton experience? These are far less culturally significant to the Carleton campus than Canoe House, the mecca of hippie and crunchy culture at Carleton, has been. Dare I say those houses seem like much more appropriate candidates for being clubs and not residences. By decommissioning this house, Carleton is abandoning an aspect of its character that makes it unique and attractive to all types of students. By disbanding this house, Carleton takes a step towards blandness and normalcy, something which runs counter to everything that Carleton has always stood for. I will not be here for the dark days when (if) Canoe house no longer exists, but I fear for the future of the college if they do not see the value in places like this.
  • April 17 2012 at 1:49 am
    Reid McMurry

    Marley, thanks for writing such a thoughtful post.  As someone who has never lived in CANOE house, and did not apply to live there in the upcoming year, I am still devastated by the decision. 

         I am devastated because CANOE house has been one of the interest houses on campus that successfully creates a community that extends beyond its occupants.  This is a community defined by the traits that make Carleton so special in my eyes.  We're talking about a house so warmly accepting and confident in its purpose that it not only succeeds in fulfilling its mission of allowing  students to live together for the purpose of appreciating the outdoors,  but draws students from around campus to do the same thing.

         If the interest house decision board had issues with how the house was run, constructive criticism would have served Carleton better than CANOE house's discontinuation.  CANOE has the opportunity to re-apply next year to be re-instated for the following year (which they will hopefully be granted).  Compared to how long the college and CANOE house have been around, a year is short, but students aren't around for so long.  Even if CANOE is reinstated next year, it will be missing for a quarter of our time at Carleton and that is one quarter too long for such a Carleton staple to be missing. 

  • April 17 2012 at 5:35 pm
    Eli Kamin
    Gotta say, to me CANOE house has always seemed to be the most popular interest house.
  • April 17 2012 at 8:05 pm
    Russell Buehler
    Kudos for not just going postal, but Reslife doesn't do things without reason and, no, the big, bad administration isn't out to kill Carleton culture, Steven. If I had to guess, I would say the house was discontinued because IT wasn't doing anything particularly special. What about CANOE requires a house? Taking away the house doesn't mean the Reslife doesn't value what CANOE itself does; it just means they think someone else can utilize the space better. If I had to guess, I would say that CANOE house got complacent and turned into a place for only a small subset of Carleton residents to hang out. Yeah, you all may have run all those great programs--but I didn't hear about a single one. You (as a house) need to market yourself to everyone in the Carleton community--not just the people who happen to have signed up on CANOE's list or hang out with you--and you need to actually use the space you were given (which of the programs you mentioned actually require a house to run?).
  • April 17 2012 at 8:53 pm
    Chloe Zelkha

    CANOE has been an important part of campus for me too (although I've never lived there). Russell, I'd like to respond with a few thoughts.

     I think (as a big part of the Carleton community) it is valid for students to question Reslife's decisions. I would really disagree that CANOE wasn't "doing anything particularly special." As interest houses go, they would be at the top of my list in terms of large-scale programming and strong community-building. The community isn't just a "subset of Carleton residents," and certainly doesn't just extend to the CANOE email list (although, just to be clear, the email list happens to be one of the largest on campus with 737 members, probably indicative of wide interest in their events). It's also one of the most popular houses to live in (I believe they received in the ball park of 30 apps for 5 spots this spring).

    Bottom line is that for many it's a campus institution; it's been around for over 25 years, and the fact that ResLife can just one year decide to discontinue it (without any warning, minimal explanation, and AFTER the application and acceptance process for future residents) is completely absurd.

  • April 17 2012 at 9:05 pm
    Steven Aviram
    In Response to Russell's argument that CANOE doesn't need a house to actually run its programs, the same can be said of most interest houses on campus. Why not disband Farm House and just leave Farm Club, (Farm House doesn't necessarily participate in the club anyway)? Why not get rid of Culinary House and just leave Culinary Club? Or, more egregiously, why does Fitness House need a house, when we have tons of fitness programs already on campus? Interest houses are there for those interested. There is no reason that an interest house needs to do things that appeal to the whole campus rather than just a sect of it. I'm sure there are many who would never consider setting foot into Farm House, or Benton House, yet we don't talk about discontinuing their residency. Couldn't you say Benton house is complacent because they only put on events that appeal to Sci-Fi kids -- who are "a small subset of the Carleton population"? The very purpose of interest houses is to provide a haven for people with specific interests. If they are justifying their revocation by your argument then, they should also repeal these other niche houses. Otherwise, they have no good reason for repealing CANOE house.
  • April 17 2012 at 10:27 pm
    Jackson Vanfleet

    really nice photos!

  • April 17 2012 at 11:01 pm
    Kathy Dooley
    CANOE brought me to Carleton. When asked how I chose which college to attend, I generally responded, "well, Carleton has this beautiful arboretum and an awesome organization called CANOE…" As a perspective student, I could imagine nothing better than backpacking over the weekends, canoeing down the Cannon, and building igloos in the Arb. Although these lovely adventures can still take place without the house, the house is adds an essential aspect to the organization. It is not only a place for the residents, but where anyone in the Carleton community can come to join in on the joyful and welcoming atmosphere of this very special house. I would like ResLife to know that academics had basically zero impact on my decision to come here. The community drew me to this school, and the community that I was most attracted to was CANOE. If Carleton wants to continue to pride itself in a student body that goes beyond typical "good student" qualities, it should consider one aspect it gives up by eliminating CANOE House. Perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to show ResLife and other students why they should care about CANOE House, and what it could offer them if it were to return. I believe CANOE House has more potential than it has taken advantage of to reach out to Carleton's student body, and we just need to prove that we can accomplish that in the future. When we get CANOE House back, it will give us more motivation to make sure all students feel welcome and invited to come into this house, and take part in our adventures and share our joy. Before I came to Carleton I hoped that one day I would be able to live in this house, and I am optimistic that in the future I still can.
  • April 18 2012 at 7:27 am
    Nate Ryan
    I never lived in CANOE house but always enjoyed visiting and spending time. I never was able to do many weekend club actives but did spend a lot of time at the house. The house was deniately a factor in my decision to come to Carleton, and even though I never lived there I was happy that it was around. This is really unfortunate.
  • April 18 2012 at 9:22 am
    Dave Auerbach

    I lived in CANOE house 2002-2003 and was also active in running the outdoor programs. I have a lot of great memories, but one thing that I think is worth noting about CANOE house is that while some of the members are inevitably connected with the club, some are not. One of CANOE's struggles has always been to connect with more people on campus and offer them opportunities to get outside. I feel that the house was where that started. Some of my housemates were starting points for connecting people that were relatively unaware of the trips that CANOE offers. While CANOE will continue to function without the house, I would say that its existence is an important part of the mission and functional success of the club.

  • April 18 2012 at 11:45 am
    Nathaniel Dixon
    While I was never a resident, CANOE house stood out during my time at Carleton as a harbor for welcoming, enthusiastic, vibrant personalities. In retrospect, one of the most special things about college is the opportunity to live in community-oriented enviroments. While many groups have attempted to shape healthy, rich cultures in residential spaces, few have been as successful as CANOE. While "vision and new ideas" may make for an exciting application, tradition and time-tested stability should also be measures of an institution, especially one that will profoundly shape the lives of Carleton students. It's a shame that ResLife doesn't see this value.
  • April 18 2012 at 12:58 pm
    Jordan Epstein 2010
    I an so disappointed with ResLife's decision to remove the CANOE interest house. While I was never a member of the club or house, the presence of a physical location dedicated to the love of outdoors greatly enhanced my experience at Carleton. As a boy scout and avid backpacker and outdoorsman, I eschewed organized activities and planning that the club provided, but still valued and spent many hours in the house reminiscing on past trips, giving advice, borrowing equipment, and going on off the cuff trips and adventures. Many of my happiest memories at Carleton involved going to the Long Underwear party, watching a planet earth or other outdoor movie--but mostly, just heading to the house for ridiculously fun activities--like the legendary the bacon-bacon meat cookout (a certifed David Sellassie creation) or downing pitchers of stale week-old beer so we could return an empty keg. But even above all that, the house brought to the campus what few other houses have ever done--a unique culture and persona, complete with pranks, parties, events, rivalries and more. CANOE as a house is a vital and vibrant part of the Carleton community, and is integral to what I think of when I imagine: Carleton. As an alumnus, now prostelitizing the greatness of Carleton to applicants, prospies, and parents, time and time again I talk about the community and how great it is that Carleton talks the talk but also walks the walk in terms of students living together actively participating and getting support from the college for activities they care about. Every college has an outdoors club--but at Carleton, not only is it the largest club on campus, but there's even a HOUSE for it--and believe me, this is a huge selling point. As long as the joy of the outdoors and students learning and living together remains an interest and priority at Carleton, as it was when I was a student, then I strongly urge the College to reconsider this decision.
  • April 18 2012 at 2:31 pm
    Dave Holman '06
    As the founder of WHOA house, I am delighted to hear that Reslife is not going to block our application again. For years WHOA sat right next to CANOE house by Watson, side by side and we loved each others' company. CANOE is a fabulous group that very much needs and uses a house to exist and provide great programming for campus. Fitness house did not exist in 2006 and I have no idea why it would promoted over CANOE which has a storied history and helps Carls explore their surroundings in so many wonderful ways. I recommend that CANOE residents, past, present and future, take their concerns to the College President.
  • April 20 2012 at 2:25 am
    Margaret Filson, Marlena's grandma
    I was fortunate to have been invited, with Marlena's Mother an Dad to attend the parent's event last October. While there we spent some time at the CANOE House. I was impressed with the obvious camaraderie of the students there. The diverse group of students, and the way they interacted was a pleasure to watch. For such a eclectic group to get along so well, it was a joy to observe. It was a home away from home and their parents should feel relieved to know there is such a place I feel it would be unfortunate if the CANOE House, experience for future students would not be available.
  • April 20 2012 at 12:06 pm
    Chris Taylor '04

    I'm a former CANOE house resident.  a club is NOT the same as a HOUSE. It was clear during my time at Carleton (before/during/after living in CANOE house) that the club and the house offered different - but synergistic - opportunities.  

    It seems to me that the RecCenter is already one big "Fitness House", even as a sports/fitness enthusiast myself.

    A few more points:

    1) The residential space helps have MORE TRIPS - they often emerge organically from conversations, waking up on a Saturday and deciding over coffee that people should go - say - rock climbing more this term. Trips often don't happen without TWO or more leader figures. This does not always occur easily in agenda-driven meetings... ("who wants to lead a trip? anyone?")

    2) Totally agree with Fuzzy Auerbach that the *residential* space (potlucks, peer fellow-house relationship with GreenHouse, Farm House, etc.) DID pull other noninvolved students into the club activities. Having other like-minded houses (which, I'd note, do not plan many - if any - outdoor enjoyment trips) does not replace, but rather supports CANOE's and CANOE house's joint mission.

    3) It still makes a huge difference to write/send letters, CCing everyone including the College President, in my view, even if this decision is a done deal. The students should know to include them when they re-apply again next year.

     4)  Google "Nature Deficit Disorder".  Psychological stimulation and the emotional gratification of being outdoors is unparalleled in health and medical benefits.  Being inside (especially staring at increasingly smaller screens) is not the same thing.  

    CANOE has a crucial mission and lifelong lesson for Carleton men and women.

  • April 20 2012 at 12:09 pm
    Chris Taylor '04

    one more thing:

    WHOA House is amazing too.

     Just don't strike CANOE house - a staple of Carleton history and mission - for it.

  • April 21 2012 at 12:40 am
    Allison Pfeiffer '10

    I want to second so much of what has been stated above. For me CANOE house was a home base throughout my time at Carleton. Despite only living there for one term I felt welcome at the dinner table any night. The strong sense of community (proven here by the outpouring of support) was built on having a space in which to gather, plan, cook, eat, and be merry. Without the house CANOE would be a club, not a family.

    ... And now I will go write a letter to ResLife and Steve P.

  • April 21 2012 at 7:13 am
    Pat Theole '11
    This makes me sad. Canoe house is definitely one of the reasons Carleton is special. I think that it is a great place for people in Northfield to get together and share their similar interests. Without canoe I don't know that I would have made as many great friends at Carleton. I would have just stayed at Olaf on my side of the river. I don't think that that community that I was able to hang out and collaborate with, like with the Olaf/Carleton snowball fight, would have been possible with the club but not the house.

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