A call for guidance

Two weeks ago, first-years and sophomores received an e-mail that set both their iPhones and their parents abuzz. Director of the Office of Student Life Doug Schiazza’s recent clarification of the College’s off-campus housing policies was precisely the kind of thing I had feared since scrawling my name on a terrifyingly final lease agreement this fall. Having been seduced by the allure of “uptown Williamstown” life, a classmate and I opted to explore off-campus options for our senior year, 2013-14. And, after awkward walk-throughs and endless explanations of utilities expenses, we decided to commit ourselves to a lovely abode atop a Spring Street favorite: Sushi Thai Garden. It wasn’t just the proximity of edamame or the aroma of steamed dumplings that intrigued us most about this place, and neither was it that which made us so excited to call it home.

Having both attended boarding schools for three and four years respectively, my classmate and I had forgotten the mystique of cohabitation. And, as per our calculations, by the fall of 2013 the two of us will have spent over one-third of our lives living out of dorm rooms; simply put, we were eager for our own space. Additionally, the idea of paying our own utilities bills, furnishing our own living room and stocking our own fridge was nirvana (sure, we will probably opt for a chilly apartment, fold-up futons and Easy-Mac, but the challenges posed by off-campus living are invaluable nonetheless). Certainly, living in a dorm, where custodians clean your bathrooms and staff members fix your creaky windows, is fantastic; but – as we will all inevitably be thrust out into the world of down payments and landlords – nine months of practice could prove beneficial in preparing for life outside the purple bubble.

In his e-mail, Schiazza cited the College’s status as a “residential community,” explaining that living with one another is an “important aspect of community-building during [our] time at Williams.” I could not agree more and have found our entry and neighborhood systems integral to the creation and maintenance of my most valued friendships. However, the geography of our school being what it is, off-campus options don’t mandate remote living. Sure, in cases such as the Moorland Street house or the extremities of Hoxsey Street, students are situated farther from the heart of the action. Even in these cases, however, students are living with a collection of their peers, creating for themselves a similar – if more intimate – incarnation of the dorm ambiance. Thus, I remain convinced that, should I choose to forgo dorm life, I would gain a sliver of real world know-how without imperiling my campus experience as a result.

This argument for the merits and necessities of off-campus housing is clearly not lost on the College, which allows up to 120 students to be released from their room and board fees during their senior year. The cap on off-campus options, then, is simply a function of the College’s capacity to enable our migration to the upper floors of our favorite Spring Street eateries and businesses. In reviewing the policies and talking with Schiazza, it is clear to me that, while unfortunate, the potential for mammoth fiscal consequences for students who have already signed lease agreements is not only logical but justified. After last year’s swell in the number of students who fancied an evacuation of their diminutive dorm rooms, it is understandable that the College needed to re-emphasize the policies regarding off-campus housing.

The unfortunate dilemma in which my classmate and I find ourselves is one of utter miscommunication. Students should take the initiative to read and understand the regulations regarding off-campus housing; administrators should present this information earlier and more often; landlords should recognize and respect the risk students are taking in signing leases before the lottery. It is terribly unfortunate that students like myself, who were unclear about the rules and processes, committed themselves and their families to an uncertain investment.

Lost in the chaos of this fall, I, like many of my friends, clamored for that packet of paper that promised us, with the formality only a legal document has, that the apartment of my dreams was mine for the taking. It was a folly on my part to assume that my landlord was the only authority with whom I should communicate, but it was also a failure of the Office of Student Life to send this e-mail six months too late.

Certainly, I recognize that this presents distinct but equally serious constellations of concerns for both administrators whose offices are on the second floor of Paresky and students whose signatures are penned on lease agreements. It is an undoubtedly tough situation that leaves myself and many others wedged between a rock and a hard place instead of snuggled between Spice Root and Goff’s. I can only hope that my eager first-year counterparts can have a little more foresight and a lot more guidance regarding the seriousness of committing to a lease.


Emily Calkins ’14 is from Baltimore, Md. She lives in East.

One comment

  1. Dear Emily,
    Excellent piece on the current housing crisis, I am sorry to hear that you had to go through such troubles. My name is Daniel Miggins, I am a current senior at Lehigh and was wondering if I could discuss with you the off-campus real estate market of Williams College. I have recently joined a start-up company and was wondering if I could use your material in our social media page. I look forward to hearing back from you and as I could not find your email. If you would like to respond to me at dmiggins@madpads.com that would be much appreciated. Keep up the writing.
    Daniel Miggins
    P.S. i also wrote for our school paper now and again so from one journalist to another I’d love to know the inside on Williams.

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