Housing and dining woes

Any discussion on housing at Williams is bound to lead to a rehashing of frustrations, fears and doubts about the neighborhood housing system. If you have ten Williams students in a room, you’ll have eleven different opinions on housing. But for all the uproar over the neighborhood system, students haven’t raised much discussion about other overly-restrictive housing policies. Surely neighborhood housing isn’t the only Williams housing policy to cause students inconvenience.

For example, there’s the rule that students other than seniors can’t live off-campus. I realize that the College may have legitimate concerns about under-age drinking and the ability of students to manage their own housing while still functioning academically. On the housing web site, the College says that “the experience of living with other students has an educational importance,” but part of being in college is learning to live on your own. This includes making your own decisions about housing. The fact that the College feels the need to step in and decide who can and cannot live off-campus means that although they might trust us enough to make sizeable tuition and housing payments every year, they do not trust us enough to give us living options.

Another aspect of College life I find odd is the fact that unless you’re a senior or co-op resident, you have to buy one of the College’s meal plans. There are plenty of reasons a student might decide to buy and prepare his or her own meals. He or she might have special dietary needs, be a vegan or vegetarian (have you looked at the veggie options lately?) or simply be tired of what the dining halls have to offer. Does anyone really think that not eating institutional cuisine is detrimental to the college experience? Unlike the off-campus housing issue, there seems to be no clear reason for this rule, other than perhaps financial motive on the College’s part.

And then there’s the recent discussion about allowing opposite-sex students to be roommates. Several colleges have already implemented such policies, including Clark and Wesleyan. Some students merely wish to live with close friends and feel that gender shouldn’t matter; others Pare LGBTQ students who feel that rooming with someone of the opposite sex would be more comfortable; still others wish to live with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Some say that this will lead to unnecessary sexual tension or uncomfortable situations between roommates, while others point to the fact that couples who decide to room together could break up and jeopardize both parties’ housing situations. Historically, though, these same fears have been voiced over co-ed dormitories, and later over co-ed hallways and bathrooms. Conservative fears over these changes haven’t materialized, and – I predict – won’t materialize when the College eventually accepts co-ed roommates.

Some may argue that Williams students have enough work to do without worrying about acquiring our own housing, preparing meals, or negotiating same-gender living situations. This would be a valid concern if we were high school students, but we’re adults – and Williams students to boot. If we somehow manage to juggle classes, sports, extracurricular activities, friends, relationships and the dozens of other things that Williams students do, why can’t we take care of our own housing situations?

The College says that there are educational benefits to living on-campus, ranging from learning to live with others to having a common experience with the rest of your classmates. This might be true, but doesn’t living off-campus have its own educational benefits? Finding your own housing, keeping up with your own rent and possibly living with or around non-college people is itself an educational experience apart from dorm life. Even Amherst lets non-first-years live off-campus. Why can’t we?

My friends and relatives who go to other colleges have confirmed that their housing and board policies are far less restrictive than those at Williams. These policies allow students to live off-campus, opt out of board plans and generally give them much, much more freedom. The only report I heard of a more-restrictive meal policy was from my brother, who went to a small Catholic university that once sent the campus security to arrest a student who had taken a half-eaten burrito out of the mess hall (apparently violating their “no-bringing-food-with-you” policy). I’m sure Williams students would agree that we ought to go in the opposite direction: more freedom, more choice.

Of course, this freedom may come with additional responsibility. If off-campus housing for a wider variety of students became a reality, we would have to show the College that we are capable of handling the change. If the rate of under-age off-campus drinking suddenly shot up; if there were ambulances arriving weekly at off-campus housing locations; if neighbors began to complain about noise from housing with student tenants; if off-campus students were declining to participate in campus life and events, jeopardizing the residential community that is Williams; if mid-semester fights or breakups among opposite-sex roommates result in sudden housing crises – we will have justified the College’s fears about giving students more freedom in housing. But student housing currently has an abundance of underage binge drinking, noise complaints and under-attended neighborhood events. If anything, letting more students live off-campus would be an opportunity to show the College that we can be more responsible when given more freedom.

Andrew Triska ’10 is a political science major from Estacada, Oreg.