Residential Life continues to roll out changes to housing

By Katie Landeck

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Courtesy of Flickr

The game of musical buildings continues as Residential Life attempts to find buildings to use as first-year and sophomore-only dorms as part of the housing overhaul taking place this year.

First-years will not be housed in the Southwest Residential Area towers starting next school year, according to Executive Director of Housing and Residential Life Edward Hull. First-years will still be allowed to live in the low-rises.

“We want to move all of the first-years out [of Kennedy and John Adams],” said Hull. “And into buildings that are easier to create that community.”

Hull describes the towers as “brutal architecture” that make it difficult for first-year student to socialize beyond their floor, especially because the elevators only stop at certain floors.

However junior Amir Amlashi, who spent his freshman year in John Adams, sees it differently.

“It’s a bad idea. I think they should keep all the freshmen in the tower, because I had a good experience,” said Amlashi. “I had friends on a bunch of floors, you just branch out and go walk around.”

Moving first-years out of the towers has forced Residential Life to find new places to house the approximately 1,100 first-years that currently live there, according to Hull.

As of Thursday, Hull is looking at the possibility of making more first-year dorms in Orchard Hill Residential Area, Central Residential Area and Northeast Residential Area. Southwest, Sylvan Residential Area and North Apartments are not being considered.

“We didn’t want to add any new first-year buildings to Southwest because it is a very popular mixed year,” said Hull.

He also said that North Apartments will continue to be for upperclassmen due to the apartment style living and that Sylvan will not be considered due to its reputation on campus as an unpleasant place to live.

Plans for Orchard Hill

At the end of last semester, it was proposed that Orchard Hill might become an all first-year residence. Since then, Residential Life has decided to leave at least one building on Orchard Hill as a mixed-year dorm.

“As it worked out, the numbers tended to play out comfortably so that if we took Grayson and Field – that is about 600 beds, that takes care essentially of one of the towers,” said Hull about why Orchard Hill was considered. “We have concluded that there are probably more opportunities to having some non first-years to live in O-Hill than not.”

Hull said that the protests at the end of the semester and criticism did not influence the decision to not turn Orchard Hill into an all first-year residence.

While it will not be all first-year, Hull has not eliminated the possibility of making some substantial changes to the area. Currently, Webster and Dickinson are first-year buildings and Grayson and Field are mixed-year buildings. According to Hull, it is possible that next year Dickinson will be the only mixed-year building in Orchard Hill.

“Dickinson would become a multi-year or we would leave everything the way it is,” said Hull. “But if we do that, that is another 300 or 600 beds we have to find elsewhere, which essentially make Northeast all first-year or do something similar in Central. It’s a balancing act.”

The addition of sophomore-only dorms

Residential Life will also be unveiling new sophomore-only dorms next year. As of Friday, the only dormitory that has been established as an all sophomore dorm next year is Butterfield, located in Central, which was previously a first-year dorm.

This change is part of the new program sophMORE designed to add more structure to the sophomore experience that was introduce by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jean Kim last Tuesday.

“Overall it is designed to give more support to second year students so that they can be more successful and have an easier time managing the second year slump,” said Kim.

According to a document sent by Kim, the program will focus on enhancing major and academic advising and providing other support systems that will help students to maintain good grades.

As part of the program, Housing will partner with the College of Humanities and Fine Arts to create the sophoMORE experience in Butterfield.

“We found that Van Meter and Butterfield are generally tied to the arts, so we talked to FHA (Federal Housing Administration) to see if they wanted to ramp it up,” said Hull. “We thought we could keep Van Meter a first-year dorm and … take students who want to stay involved in that kind of a community and then see how the two classes interact.”

Freshman Lauren Higgins lives in Van Meter said that she would consider living in Butterfield next year.

“Personally, I think that is pretty cool because this semester I started to make friends in my dorm so it would be really great if we could all move together,” said Higgins, who noted that a lot of theater majors and marching band members lived in Van Meter.

According to Hull, both the College of Engineering and Isenberg School of Management have shown interest in piloting similar programs.

“I can see its benefits, we are experiencing similar challenges together,” said freshman Robert Rowell, who currently lives in an engineering Residential Academic Program (RAP).

Hull, who has facilitated these types of programs on other campuses, said that they are “a slam dunk.”

However, some students worry that by continuing to separate students by age after their first-year will segregate the campus.

“I don’t like the idea of having one building that is all one level,” said senior Tobias Bennett. “It segregates the campus by what year they came here and that is supposed to end over high school.”

Bennett has always lived in mixed-year housing as he is a part of the “Living & Learning” program, and considers it one of the best decisions he could have made.

“I felt that was the best decision I made because I was able to make friends with upperclassmen who were able to help me understand the campus,” said Bennett.

Staffing still being considered

Residential Life is still examining the best way to staff the dormitories after what some students deemed a controversial announcement last semester regarding the future termination of the apartment living assistant position and peer mentor positions.

The peer mentor position – a live-in tutor who helps students pick classes and understand Spire – will be replaced by peer tutors, a similar position that will not be required to live in the dorms.

“It is really upsetting,” said Higgins about the termination of the peer mentor position. Her peer mentor has “really helped me figure out my way around Spire and … has us come in to have tea with her and she is just really nice.”

Higgins said that she is not sure that she would have used her peer mentor if she had not lived in the building.

An implementation task force – which included members of the Residence Hall Association, an all student group that represents students living within the residence halls – was created during the winter break to examine possible ways to position from peer mentors, who live in the dorms, to peer tutors, who will not necessarily live in the dorms.

Hull does not view the elimination of the peer mentor position as laying off the peer mentors, who have a yearly contract.

“In my career and that is 34 years, I have only fired three people,” said Hull. He also noted that peer mentors who applied to become resident assistants would most likely be hired.

The changes are taking place as part of an overhaul of housing that started last year. This is the first comprehensive look at the program since 2004, Hull said.

Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected]

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the number of first-years live in the towers as 1,100.