Examining the first-year residential system

As the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) compiles the results of its recent student survey on the entry system, the committee’s work to understand the first-year residential experience at the College should be commended. Entries and JAs are significant and distinctive characteristics of the College – few other academic institutions offer such a supportive framework specifically for their first-year communities. Still, we must recognize that entries are not perfect: Dissatisfaction with the system does exist, and even as the makeup of our student body has changed in recent years, the entry structure has remained relatively static. The CUL is right in examining something so integral to students’ experience at the College, and we look forward to further discussions on the subject.

However, while the online survey was an adequate start to the conversation, it should be viewed only as a stepping-stone for further examination of the system as a whole. Inherent in all surveys is a tendency for extreme or impersonal responses, and the phrasing of questions may also contribute to the feedback received. This survey won’t tell you about particular moments in the entry that define the first-year experience at the College, such as entry events to support sports games or artistic performances.

CUL members have emphasized that they have no set plans for the future, but we have seen times when CUL recommendations take place largely behind closed doors. The CUL’s discussion of entries cannot fall into this pattern. A large and diverse cross-section of students must be involved in this process, particularly the members of the JA Advisory Board (JAAB). Given that entries are such a critical component of the College, the CUL should be as transparent as possible in its recommendation process to the deans’ office.

Students – beyond the seven currently serving on the CUL – must immerse themselves in conversations about the system both in all-campus discussions and with each other in order to have fully-formed opinions at the ready. The CUL should take measures to ensure that these points of view are considered before any decision is made, as the College’s students have all experienced entry living and thus have important and unique perspectives for the CUL to consider. We must remember that the CUL, JAAB and the student body as a whole share the same fundamental goal: to create the best first-year experience for all Ephs. Incorporating as many of these voices as possible into this conversation will be necessary to ensure any change is successful.