May 2, 2013
All year, the First-Year Experience Committee has been hard at work reconfiguring housing assignments for incoming students to improve the qualities of their lives on the Hill. However, it wasn’t until last week that the discussion became widespread—sweeping campus and riling up students who felt that adjustments to the current organization of students on campus could compromise their own happiness at Hamilton.
At this week’s Student Assembly meeting, Assistant Dean of Students for Residential Life Travis Hill and Senior Associate Dean of Students for Strategic Initiatives Meredith Bonham were present to discuss the upcoming housing changes. At an unusually well-attended meeting, Hill and Bonham outlined modifications students can expect to see in the fall of 2014. The aim of the housing adjustments is to create first-year clusters. These clusters are intended to facilitate class unity, build community and put together first-years who are all going through the same experience of being at college for the first time. This would also allow Hamilton to expand the REAL program, the demand for which has been rapidly increasing. Another goal of the changes is to decrease alcohol culture among first-years at Hamilton, who drink less than students at peer universities before matriculation, but report drinking more after coming to Hamilton. First-year designated clusters would be Major, Keehn, South, Wertimer, Carnegie’s third and fourth floors and Dunham’s basement, first floor and second floor. Carnegie’s first and second floors would be designated during the fall semester for students planning to study abroad in the spring, and for January admits in the spring.
Many students have expressed outrage over this plan, and showed up at the Student Assembly meeting to discuss their frustration over the housing changes and the manner in which they were made. The loss of Carnegie, a desirable upperclassman residence hall, seems to have galvanized Hamilton students. The Major faculty apartment, and likely the faculty apartment in Keehn as well, will be renovated into doubles for first-years. Ultimately, this housing plan leaves very few quads for upperclassmen. Those present at the meeting raised several concerns about putting these quads in the hands of first-years. They argued that a quad in Carnegie or South does not really encourage students to get to know others in their hall (one of the big aims of the housing plan) because there is little reason to leave one’s room, and that instead of discouraging underage drinking, this encourages it, as Carnegie and South quad common rooms have ample space for parties.
Bonham and Hill responded by saying that they were focusing on other issues when selecting dorms, and the decision largely came down to numbers. Bonham explained “we decided that our parameters would be: 1) preserve as many singles as possible for upperclassmen and 2) spread first-year housing across campus. In doing so, we also hoped to minimize the disruption to upperclassmen as much as possible. Finally, we had to be realistic about costs, which focused us on those residence halls that would require the least amount of renovations to accommodate first-year students.” Under this plan, upperclassmen will lose less than 83 singles. However, with the potential loss of downtown housing and 3394 and 4002 College Hill Road, students are worried about the loss of singles as well as quads.
Students also expressed dissatisfaction with the process by which the decision was made, claiming that they did not have enough input about these changes, or receive enough information about them. Bonham responded to these accusations by saying, “We were highly intentional in gathering community input, because we knew that faculty, staff and student perspectives would inform our thinking and strengthen our recommendations. To that end, we coordinated brown-bag discussions, held a discussion with RAs, met with Student Assembly, and arranged many other meetings with faculty and key staff members … Travis Hill and I asked to meet with Student Assembly so we could discuss the report and the housing changes, and did so on October 1, 2012. That information was included in the Student Assembly minutes, which also appended a copy of the FYE report.” Whether or not students took advantage of it, it is indisputable that the information was available. And so students have turned to criticizing the administration for not providing better publicity for the plan, and more actively seeking feedback from students.
After the meeting, responses showed up quickly. Posts in various Hamilton College class-year Facebook groups criticized the decisions and the reason of the plan, and a change.org petition was created early on Tuesday. The petition expresses the feeling that these changes to benefit the first-years come at the expense of older students, stating “it does not make sense to current students that the quality of the freshman experience would not take other factors into account.” The petition also expresses willingness to compromise, so long as student voices are being heard. “Students would like to work with the administration to create a new plan that will improve quality of living for freshman without diminishing the Hamilton experience for upperclassmen. The student body is willing to make many changes, however, not some of the ones that have been proposed.” In addition, there will be a student-run, students-only meeting led by Student Assembly President Anthony Jackson ’15 held Wednesday night to discuss this issue and relations in general with the administration.
At the Student Assembly meeting, Hill and Bonham indicated that all changes to housing were final, though programming for first-years was still negotiable. Architects had been consulted and plans were being drawn up. In the aftermath, however, it appears that there may, in fact, be room for change. Bonham stated, “the overarching goal of the FYE Committee was to improve the college transition for future Hamilton students. Having heard the comments expressed at Monday’s Student Assembly meeting, we are exploring the feasibility of an alternative option that would still accomplish the aims of the first-year housing program while addressing concerns about upperclass student housing options.” This possibility, however small, should be encouraging to the students so virulently opposed to this plan.
This Wednesday, following the contentious housing debates, Jackson and Vice President Sarah Larson ’15 held a meeting to discuss the upcoming changes. They also brought to the table an explanation of a compromise offered to them Wednesday afternoon: remove Carnegie from proposed first-year housing, keep South as it is and convert North and Wallace Johnson into first-year housing. Some students are still unhappy that they seem to have had no dialogue in the discussion. Jackson intends to hold another meeting to discuss whether or not to accept this compromise. In the event that Student Assembly rejects the compromise, Jackson believes that students must put forth another concrete alternative.