Off-Campus Limited: Renovations to Expand Housing
When Paolo Speirn ’10 decided to move to an off-campus house a block north of Washington St. with four friends, it wasn’t out of distaste for the options that the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) provided.
“I lived in a program house for two years and I do think that the options they offer are great,” he said. “I decided to live off-campus because I just wanted to be able to make my own house and my own habits in a way that I felt like I couldn’t in a University house. It was also important to me to not feel observed all the time. There’s this weird dynamic when you know that someone could come into your room at any time, even if you’re not doing something illegal, that always unsettled me.”
Nonetheless, Speirn and the other 36 students who are currently living off-campus may be the last of a dying breed.
Next year, ResLife is anticipating letting far fewer students live off-campus. In past years, ResLife generated a waitlist of students who requested to live off-campus but did not meet the criteria—having a specific medical condition that could not be managed on campus or being over 25 with children and/or married. If, after the incoming freshman class size has been determined and the number of students studying abroad has been calculated, there are not enough spaces on campus for all students, ResLife then released students from the waitlist, in order of seniority.
With the addition of three new senior houses and other living spaces for all class years, however, ResLife predicts that almost all students will be accommodated on campus next year.
“We’re trying to let people know that yes, in the past we’ve been able to release people from the waitlist, but we really don’t think that’s going to happen this year,” said ResLife Director Fran Koerting. “With this additional housing coming up, we don’t anticipate there being an overcrowding problem in the fall.”
Physical Plant is renovating several on-campus units in order to convert them into student housing. The house located at 162 Church St., which used to house the University Organizing Center now located at 192 High St., will become a four person-unit. 109 Cross St., which used to store UPS packaging and has not been used in several years, will also house four students. The house located at 172 Cross St., a faculty house that has not been used since a family moved out several years ago, will become a three-person unit. Additionally, five houses are being converted into six-person units via the addition of one bedroom.
“We work closely with Res Life to optimize each floor plan to meet code and satisfy student desires,” wrote Associate Vice President for Facilities Joyce Topshe in an e-mail to the Argus. “In some cases the house needed a new boiler and some minor renovations to convert from faculty housing to student housing such as 172 Cross. In other houses, such as 109 Cross, the house is being totally renovated since it hasn’t been lived in for many years.”
Along with the new senior housing, bedrooms have been added to dormitories for other class years. The former dance studio and common space in 156 High, where WesWings is located, is being converted into sophomore-appropriate rooms for 10 people.
Although the changes were primarily a response to the temporary 30-student per year increase that started with the class of 2013 and will continue until the class of 2016, Koerting said that the overall goal is to provide on-campus housing for the entire student body.
“We’re always looking to see where we can increase our housing stock and have it be attractive housing for students,” she said. “I know there are some houses that are fairly close to campus that it’s almost like living in one of our woodframes, but statistically students in the nation who live off campus are not as engaged in campus life—that’s why the University felt so strongly that all students do be residential students.”
According to the University’s Campus Master Planning website, the University’s housing policy goal is to provide students with “Progressively Independent Living.”
“The objective, based on the residential living philosophy, is to represent the progression from collective to more independent living,” the website reads.
In recent years, however, rumors have been spreading on campus that the University eventually plans to eliminate woodframe housing.
“I heard [that rumor] five years ago when I first came here,” Koerting said. “I’ve never heard anyone support that. If anything, I’ve seen Physical Plant be very committed to maintaining the diversity of the housing stock that we have and committed to maintaining independent housing for juniors and seniors.”
Indeed, President Michael Roth confirmed that the University’s goal of encouraging independent living has not changed.
“We are committed to keeping that,” he said. “How best to fulfill it is really a practical question—which houses are available, which ones are needing a lot of work, some of them are incredibly energy inefficient.”
Despite the fact that Wesleyan’s Housing Contract requires students to live on-campus all four years, several students apply to live off campus each year. In fact, according to Koerting, questions from students about off-campus living have increased this year.
“I wasn’t sure why there was so much interest,” Koerting said. “I’m not sure what is offered off-campus that you can’t get [on-campus]—you can pick a house that is just like any house you would rent, you don’t have to deal with a landlord, your maintenance is taken care of—there’s so much more protection built into it should something go wrong and you’re still going to experience all the same stuff you’d experience by living off campus with your group of friends, so I’m not sure what the big draw is.”
Some students, like Speirn, feel limited by University housing.
“I think that forcing people to live on-campus and to pay what amounts to ridiculously inflated housing costs is just silly,” he said. “I think it’s one more reason for students to feel that the University has all these mechanisms that seem like money-grabs. Already the difficulty of living off-campus is one of many roots of an antagonistic relationship between students and administration.”
Kerry Moore ’12 was considering applying to live off-campus in order to bring her dog from home to live with her at school.
“I think some people have strong reasons for why they want to live off campus,” she said. “They don’t have to be 25 years old or be married or be pregnant. It would be nice if you could plead your case instead of being told no automatically.”
While some students feel that the University’s four-year on-campus policy is unfair, the vast majority of undergraduate students live in the housing ResLife provides. Moore said she knew when she enrolled that the Housing Contract generally did not allow off-campus living.
Koerting said she hopes that ResLife can quell student worries as they continue to add on-campus housing.
“I can understand students feeling limited,” she said. “Hopefully [the policy] isn’t a surprise to people. I know our housing process is our blessing and our curse.”