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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

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Membership, Not Residence, Makes a College

— People who are new to the residential college idea often get hung up on the word residential. If our students aren’t all in residence, they ask, how can we create residential colleges? This question is answered by remembering that the emphasis in the phrase “residential college” belongs on college, not on residential. A residential college is first and foremost a society of people, not a building, and while residence is important, it is membership, not residence, that makes a college. Non-resident faculty fellows are as much members of their colleges as students are, and if resident students elect to live outside their college buildings (or perhaps to travel abroad for a term) their membership should continue without interruption: they should receive college mailings, participate in college events, and have full access to college facilities.

Northwestern University in Illinois has a mixed system of residential colleges, some of which segregate students by “theme” while others represent cross-sections of the campus as a whole. A story in today’s edition of the NU student newspaper The Daily Northwestern—abridged below—reports on the practice of non-resident membership in the Northwestern residential colleges:

Benefits bring non-residents back to res colleges

Amy Anichini moved into Shepard Residential College as a freshman two years ago, drawn to the college’s large rooms. Now a Weinberg junior, Anichini has moved off campus, but she still has a key to the front door.

“My friends still live there, and I like their activities,” Anichini said. “I can get keys, go to munchies and get tickets to shows.”

Anichini is one of about 39 Northwestern students who maintained their residential college memberships as non-residents this school year, according to Nancy Anderson, coordinator for the residential college program. Many of these non-residents live off campus like Anichini.

Once students move out of their residential colleges, they can return for community activities such as formals, firesides and munchies by paying non-resident dues. Shepard Residential College has a position on its executive board for keeping track of non-resident members. The officer’s duties include distributing and collecting keys as well as keeping non-residents informed about dorm activities.

The idea of a special student council officer to represent the needs of these “livers-out” (as they are called in British collegiate universities) is a good one, and could be easily adopted within any residential college system. But why are “non-resident dues” charged? I don’t know the internal operations of the Northwestern colleges first-hand, and don’t know how they are financed. But in general I can’t see any justification for the levying of a special charge (if that is what it is) against this one group of members.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021