Leading the Charge at House Wars

orientation / events

Chants and cheers can be heard from blocks away as two playfully rival groups gather to trade barbs in Carnegie Mellon University's Morewood Lot next to the David A. Tepper Quadrangle. 

The first group, all first-year students residing in Morewood Gardens and E-Tower residence halls, are dressed primarily in yellow, the color representing their clan for House Wars. Most wear their Orientation t-shirts and face paint. Some have wrapped themselves in caution tape. One has turned a set of cardboard boxes into a giant pineapple costume. 

A few feet away stand the residents of Stever House adorned in green. They rally behind the megaphone-amplified voice of Chris Fulton. Fulton's wearing green, glittery face paint and an Orientation t-shirt that's different than most. It says HOC on the back, which stands for head orientation counselor. Fulton, a rising senior studying electrical and computer engineering, is one of seven HOCs. He's in charge at this year's House Wars.

"I love that House Wars is really a time when students can just have fun," Fulton said. "It's not serious. We can play games and have as much fun as possible. These games have transcended time, transcended the people that have been here." 

House Wars separates the incoming class by residence halls. The six groups claim their own color. Students spend hours before the event preparing elaborate costumes and making and painting cardboard structures. Once under way, they participate in a series of games, and the house with the most points at the end secures bragging rights for the next year. 

It starts with each team gathered on various sides of The Cut. Theme songs play over loudspeakers as the houses take turns charging the center of the field while screaming happy battle cries.

While some students only experience House Wars as an incoming first-year student, Fulton has participated every year since arriving at Carnegie Mellon. He was an orientation counselor his sophomore year, an orientation leader last year, and now plans House Wars as a head orientation counselor.

Chris Fulton gives instructions to participants of this year's House Wars.

"Chris has put his heart and soul into the event so far," said Julie Schultz, the associate dean for First-Year Orientation and Family Engagement. "House Wars is such a great part of Orientation week. The students develop relationships with their roommates, floormates and others in their house community. They have fun displaying that pride, through these fun, quirky games."

This is Schultz's second House Wars. She took over the program from Anne Witchner, the associate dean for Student Affairs. Witchner oversaw House Wars from the beginning, in 2001 when a group of four head orientation counselors decided they wanted to try something new. 

Jennifer Cerully, Jara Dorsey, Michael Gibbons and Brook Rosenthal created an optional evening of field games on The Cut. In the first year, 300 students participated. The four HOCs returned the following year with a more formalized proposal and the name House Wars. They anticipated the same size crowd. According to Witchner, more than 900 showed up for the second year. 

"I think it's a testimony to how students help shape what happens here in positive ways," Witchner said. "My philosophy has always been to empower students. I always wanted the head counselors to have their imprint on Orientation."

Over time, the games have continued to grow. Each year, a new HOC adds their own spin to the event. Games are swapped out. But some things, like the watermelon pass, never change.

"Everyone remembers their House Wars experience," Fulton said. "Regardless of whether you won or lost, whatever the case may be, it's still a fond memory."

Fulton was speaking anecdotally about losing. He won with Stever House in his first year.

"When they announced that our house won, everyone just shot up and erupted in cheering and dancing," Fulton said. "I was so into it I lost my voice."