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Residential College Plans Advance at Ole Miss

— In April of last year I had the pleasure of visiting and speaking about residential colleges at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi. The university’s provost, Carolyn Staton, is a great advocate of the collegiate way of living, and she has the support of an energetic group of collegiately-minded faculty. And her enthusiasm is beginning to bear fruit. In the story “Faculty discuss residential colleges at ASB meeting” in today’s issue of the student newspaper The Daily Mississippian, Haley Crum reports that residential college planning is well under way:

During Tuesday night’s Associated Student Body Senate meeting, members discussed the development of residential colleges and the satisfaction these facilities might provide for Ole Miss students.

The majority of Ole Miss students live off-campus in apartments or houses. Those students who do live on campus are mostly unsatisfied underclassmen who feel a wave of disappointment in a dorm life that does not fulfill the campus experience, according to Elizabeth Tizza, ASB director of academic affairs, and Joseph Urgo, chair of the English department and residential college design committee. Because of the lack of renovation, communal activities, small rooms and visitation limits, it is no wonder that most students prefer living off campus where freedom is more abundant.

This is where residential colleges come in. Unlike in the student-only dorm, faculty members and their families would live in a residential college in a separate but connected quarter.

Residential students and faculty members can find a common meeting ground and potentially strengthen student/professor relations.

“Students could really get to know faculty members and their families, so they can develop better relationships outside the classroom,” Tizza said.

Unrestricted visitation rights would provide students with more freedom to do as they please. Rooms will resemble apartments or suites and will have significantly less people living around them compared to a dorm. There is even talk of physical fitness rooms and coffee shops to be placed for student use within the buildings.

Each residential college would have its own crest, colors and traditions and would compete with other residential colleges in activities such as intramural sports. However, residential colleges are not meant to replace the Greek system on campus.

“The campus has doubled its size in the last 10 years, so this will help students feel like they are part of a smaller, closer community instead of feeling alienated,” Urgo said. “It’s an attempt to get rid of that artificial line between residence life and academic life.”

Students would be indiscriminately placed into residential colleges disregarding major, GPA, year and income. Once placed into a residential college a student would always be a part of it.

Several universities, such as Vanderbilt, Tulane, the University of South Carolina and Yale, have benefitted from the use of residential colleges and find them quite effective. The price of housing will only increase slightly as the chancellor is currently considering private fund-raising to keep the costs down for students.

If all goes as planned, Ole Miss should become a partially residential college university within the next four years.

Hooray for Ole Miss! May this “American Oxford” and its future colleges live long and prosper.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021