URLAAC reinvisions neighborhood

The Upperclass Residential Life Ad-hoc Advisory Committee (URLAAC) is in the process of finalizing several recommendations for changes to the upperclassmen housing system. The major points currently being discussed within URLAAC  are the removal of neighborhood limitations in the housing selection process and the location of Quiet Housing. When the group makes a recommendation, the report will go to the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) and senior staff members to be reviewed. Doug Schiazza, director of the Office of Student Life and organizer of URLAAC, hopes that the changes will be implemented in time for next year’s housing selection process.

URLAAC has been meeting since March, and while they initially met to discuss the Baxter Fellow program, the group was so productive that they have continued to meet this fall. The result of the work put into the Baxter Fellow program resulted in the creation of Neighborhood Leadership Teams (NLTs) (“Neighborhood reforms replace Baxter Fellows,” April 10). Steve Klass, vice resident for campus life, said the group originally formed when he approached Schiazza and found similarities in what issues they saw in the upperclassmen residential life system. “[There was] a governance structure of the neighborhoods and this Baxter Fellow thing that [was] still kind of forming itself, and they [didn’t] seem to be integrated in a way that was helping us move either narrative along,” Klass said.

The group is made up of students from a range of backgrounds, faculty and staff, most of whom have been involved in the upperclassmen residential life system in some way. “Get all those voices in a room, and say help me think about this, and you get great results,” Klass said. “We were all pretty surprised about how quickly the housing coordinator system came together. The neighborhood system was the product of a similar process in the CUL,” he said. “And in this case, we’ll probably want to involve the CUL in some conversations and figure out what the next step in the community engagement of these conversations is. The senior staff will discuss it, and we’ll take it from there. I’m really excited about it because the first step of the process is what brought us the new neighborhood leadership teams and housing coordinators. The second step of looking at some of the structural processes as well makes these phenomenal processes.”

This fall, URLAAC has been looking at the neighborhoods’ role in the upperclassman housing selection process and Quiet Housing. In looking at the neighborhoods, URLAAC has almost come to a consensus on recommending the removal of neighborhoods from the upperclassman housing selection process. Upperclassmen would be put in a lottery where they could pick into any room in any neighborhood on campus. This will not mean that neighborhoods no longer exist. They will be maintained under the NLTs in the same way, but neighborhoods will no longer be an aspect of the selection process. Pick group size and gender caps will also remain unchanged.

“[The neighborhoods are] about getting people who live in close proximity to each other to get to know each other, to get to do some fun things together, to learn together, to support each other, to challenge each other and to address issues when they come up,” Schiazza said. “And also to give student leaders a good opportunity for leadership, and we’ve started to see that already in the changes we’ve made since this spring.”

In its discussions, URLAAC found that the housing selection process was made more stressful by the additional worry and limitation of picking into a neighborhood. “For a lot of people, the housing selection process by neighborhood raises a lot of student anxiety, makes it confusing, and for some, makes it stressful,” Schiazza said. Some of the possible problems that URLAAC discussed were in regard to the current junior and sophomore classes and the worry that the diversity of students across the upperclassmen-housing map could change.

URLAAC is still discussing a grandfathering process for the Classes of 2015 and 2016 who have already picked into the neighborhood system. The group has discussed the possibility of a transition period that would make the switch easier for these classes who might have a previous commitment to being in a particular neighborhood.

Concerns were also raised that the change could result in certain areas of campus being dominated by a specific student group or class year. Schiazza explained that the general consensus among students was that the houses each class gravitates toward now would probably not change; for example, seniors would still pick into Fitch singles, Morgan singles, etc. In regard to the concern about certain houses getting dominated by a specific student group, Schiazza said, “if we don’t increase the pick group size, I don’t see it really changing.”

“The system involving neighborhood affiliation was initially conceived in order to discourage groups of students from self-segregating across campus and putting up walls to community,” Donny Kost ’15, member of URLAAC, said. “On URLAAC, we’ve agreed that the students and culture have changed, and it’s time for us to adapt. We’re hoping to loosen the system, making people happier without bringing back the problems of the past.”

The second big issue URLAAC is discussing is relocating Quiet Housing, which is currently in West College. Every year, more students apply for Quiet Housing than obtain it. “The main problem is that not everyone who needs quiet housing gets it. And some people with early picks who want West for other reasons don’t get it, while some get it as quiet housing without real need,” Frank Morgan, professor of mathematics and faculty member of URLAAC, said. In 2013, Student Life reported that there were 130 applications for 54 beds in Quiet Housing.

“The reputation of Tyler/Tyler Annex, students have been able to consistently ‘take over’ the building and turn it into a party space,” Kost said. “The prevention of such takeovers was precisely the reason the neighborhood system was created. Turning this area into Quiet Housing would eliminate one of the only spaces left on campus that has been consistently taken by certain groups. Secondly, we hazard the guess that a low lottery number sophomore who is ‘stuck’ with Tyler/Tyler Annex would rather be in a quiet space than a noisy party space.”

URLAAC has discussed the idea of moving Quiet Housing to Tyler House and/or Tyler Annex for next year. This would provide more space for those who want Quiet Housing in addition to a quieter location. The move would also have the secondary benefit of improving College relationships to those Williamstown residents who live near Tyler House and Tyler Annex. The possible drawbacks that were discussed by URLAAC are that the move could be perceived as moving Quiet Housing to an undesirable location in the eyes of students.

“Tyler/Tyler Annex [have] a bad reputation, with some groups making it a spot where others who ended up there felt they did not belong,” Morgan said. “It actually is quite nice, and residents often remark that it was better than they expected. I think that as Quiet Housing, it will become quite desirable, and that will be a great thing all around. I would have loved to have quiet housing at Tyler/Tyler Annex as an undergraduate: quiet location, nice facilities, great neighborhood and just a five-minute walk from Bronfman!” Morgan said.

URLAAC will finalize their recommendations by Thanksgiving Break.

 

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