Students Nudging Virginia Back to the Collegiate Way
16 March 2007 (collegiateway.org) — About fifteen years ago, to much acclaim and publicity, the University of Virginia established the first two residential colleges in what was going to be a complete collegiate system. Then the administration changed, and the project stalled. But as is sometimes the case, the students may have better vision than their elders. The editorial below by Virginia freshman Ashlee Wilkins just appeared in today’s edition of the Cavalier Daily, UVA’s student newspaper. Her conclusion? Virginia needs to expand the partial residential college system that it now has.
Keeping students on GroundsAshlee Wilkins, Cavalier Daily Viewpoint Writer
THE UNIVERSITY Housing Division and its policies have been the subject of many a debate around Grounds recently. A key issue is how housing negatively impacts the Charlottesville community. Half of the student body lives off Grounds, and because so many students need living spaces in the area, rents are rising. It is thus becoming impossible for people in Charlottesville, especially lower and middle-class working families, to afford to live here. The city government took steps to help alleviate the problem, but the entire issue is a result of the University’s shortcomings with regard to on-Grounds housing. The University needs to take responsibility and make a genuine effort to improve housing.
Only about a third of upper-class students live on Grounds, but the housing currently “pretty much equals the demand,” according to John Evans, the director of accommodations in the University Housing Department. So, students live off Grounds mostly because they want to, which means they do not want to live on Grounds.
To improve the situation, the University needs to make on-Grounds housing more appealing so students actually want to live there. Students do not because of some simple reasons. Places like Faulkner, Lambeth and Copeley are all further away from classes than some places off Grounds. They have no dining halls in the complexes; students have to leave their building to do laundry, and rooms are often shared. These and many other reasons explain why students do not like the University’s housing options.
Most of the facilities are in the same style as apartment complexes off Grounds. There are positives and negatives to both housing options, but they balance out for many students. With the current options, living on Grounds is really not better than living off Grounds, only different in a few aspects. The main factor for many ends up being between University control and being on one’s own. Students prefer the freedom and ability to “escape the University behavioral guidelines,” as Evans pointed out, and the numbers reflect that preference.
There are, of course, limitations to how the University can encourage students to stay on Grounds. There will still be rules and resident staff, there can’t be washing machines and dryers in every suite or apartment, and there are space and financial limitations. Even so, there are changes the University could make—some major and some minor.
A successful model from other universities is the residential college system, which has undergraduates divided randomly into residential colleges much like Brown, Hereford or the International Residence College. Even if the University doesn’t make a major overhaul of the current housing system, by creating inclusive and quality residence areas, more students will want to live on Grounds. Other schools with residential-college systems are successful. Rice has 81 percent of undergraduates living on-campus, Yale has 88 percent, and Harvard has 97 percent, as they each share on their Web sites. These and others use the same basic system, and the University could implement the idea as well, to any degree that it wishes. First-year students could stay in the current plan, especially with the building of new dormitories. The Housing Department’s Web site shows the plans for a new dormitory on Alderman Road that will include multi-purpose rooms, study rooms, a lounge and a laundry room within the building itself.
After first-year, upperclass students could benefit from similarities to the new dormitories. If the apartment-style housing remained, but the “conveniences” often linked with living on Grounds were more valuable and accessible than when off Grounds, students might want to take advantage of the housing.
Other aspects of a residential college system keep students on campus at other schools and in the University’s residential colleges. The closeness to the central campus and the general sense of community are those key aspects. Students get into a residential college and then stay there throughout undergraduate study. Safety is important as students hear about incidents on the edges of Grounds and in Charlottesville. Many of the schools with residential colleges are located in cities and share the concern. If upper-class housing were closer to Grounds and self-contained, students would feel safer.
To make this happen, more residence halls should be built—and built closer to Central Grounds, if possible. This will be limited by space and funding; the University is not a small private school with as few students or as large of an endowment as many schools with full residential college systems. The University is undergoing many changes in the realms of finances and construction, so hopefully there is room for change in housing, also.
University Housing competes with off-Grounds housing, and in order to improve the quality of living for University students and lift the stress on the Charlottesville community, on-Grounds housing needs to improve.
Ashlee Wilkins is a Cavalier Daily Viewpoint Writer. She is a first-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences.