The College just formed a Residential Life working group. Here’s what they’re working on.

Megan Lin

In response to the Learning Beyond the Classroom strategic planning working group’s recommendations for improving student life on campus, the College recently formed a Residential Life Working Group. The group is deliberating solutions for problems related to housing and student life, including plans for live-in staff, affinity housing, senior housing and housing for non-traditional students. 

Live-in staff

One of the group’s top priorities is hiring new staff for fall 2021, who will be called Area Coordinators, to live on campus and assist existing student residential life leaders. In an email to the Record, Assistant Director for Residential Life & Housing and working group member Patricia Leahey-Hayes said “the Area Coordinators (ACs) will advise and support Housing Coordinators (HCs) and Junior Advisors (JAs) as they navigate their role as peer residential life leaders.” 

The College will hire four ACs: two working with upperclassmen Residential Directors (RDs) and HCs, and two working with first-years and JAs. According to Leahey-Hayes, these ACs will address issues such as community standards, neighbor conflicts and behavioral issues, taking these out of the hands of student leaders and Campus Safety and Security (CSS).

A large reason for this change comes from the College receiving feedback from student leaders that they need clearer boundaries for their roles. 

“Basically for the JAs, [their role is to be] ambassadors that are here to welcome the new students and help them adjust and have the tools they need to feel like they can build a community that feels safe and respectful to them,” Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom said. “But because we have a system currently where there are no adults other than CSS on campus at night and after hours, the JAs and HCs have found themselves in some really challenging circumstances that should not be a student’s job to manage.”

With an Area Coordinator system, the College hopes JAs and HCs will be able to focus more on their peer mentor role, rather than handling emergencies that they are not equipped to deal with. 

The new position will also change CSS’s role on campus. Right now, CSS is the only staff available after 5 p.m., and they receive calls for tasks as varied as students getting locked out of their rooms, leaky pipes, noise complaints and COVID guideline violations. These are all residential life issues that CSS equivalents do not usually handle at other institutions. 

“[CSS is] not a good fit for that, really,” Sandstrom said. “It feels intrusive to students. They don’t really want Campus Safety coming into … their dorms to handle those kinds of things.”

Starting next year, ACs will be on-call and serving as the primary professional residential staff during nights and weekends to resolve any issues and emergencies. Leahey-Hayes said that, since these ACs will be living in the residence halls, it would be “expected” that they would develop relationships with the students that will enable them to work more effectively with solving residential life issues.

Affinity housing

The working group is also looking to fix problems with inclusion. “We hear from students that there’s some unevenness in the extent to which students feel like they belong and are visible and respected in their spaces,” Sandstrom said. “There’s a sense in which certain spaces get taken over by certain groups of students, and other students feel less visible or less included.”

One of the proposed solutions for this problem is affinity housing, housing where students live with others that share a specific interest or demographic. The group has yet to fully work out details for what affinity housing will look like, however. Leahey-Hayes said it will likely depend on what students demonstrate interest in as well as looking at successful models from other institutions and seeing what will be “successful within the Williams culture.”

Long-term plans

While the group has primarily focused on getting live-in staff and affinity housing off the ground for fall 2021, they’ve also developed long-term goals for housing in the future. The group hopes to eventually talk about revisions to senior-focused housing and housing for students outside of the traditional student experience of entering the College right after high school. 

 Sandstrom said the current senior housing system is not inclusive enough, as not everyone who wants to live off-campus is able to. Furthermore, she said non-traditional students — such as those who served in the military, transferred from community college or took time off — have different life experiences and therefore ought to have a specific housing system worked out for them.