A committee appointed by Community Council will soon conduct a review of specialty housing at the college, including all social houses and special interest houses. Unlike reviews in past years, this review seeks to revise some of the rules under which special interest and social housing are governed, through gathering feedback from residents at the same time as determining whether houses are following the current rules. As a student involved with the residential life report that recommended this review, I would like to offer my opinion on the manner in which it should be conducted. I take some of these suggestions from my experience with the report, whose methodology, like that of any report, can always be improved. First, the committee should seek to engage with all residents by interviewing both students in leadership positions, as well as those who simply live in a house. Second, the review should take into account the original purpose for which the houses under review were built. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the committee members should incorporate feedback from staff as well as students, especially custodial staff.
The first point concerns only larger houses like Tavern, Brooker, PALANA, Chromatic, etc. which have many non-officer residents. When I was co-chair of Community Council, I found it difficult to communicate effectively with house leadership on long-term issues that might affect the formation of new rules. This lack of communication may have occurred because the Community Council was trying to enforce housing rules at the same time as it was trying to find out information that would be helpful in drafting new rules. People who are simply residents in a house are more likely to share useful information because they are not explicitly tasked with representing the house to the administration. They also offer a different perspective that is not necessarily influenced as heavily by the work of organizing social events and community gatherings.
I make the second suggestion because many specialty housing buildings have unique features such as decks, courtyards, large and small lounges, and kitchens of varying sizes with varying equipment. Considering the state of all of these physical features will help to determine whether a certain group of residents is using all of their resources to the best of their ability. For example, it is a much more specific and useful question to ask, “How often would you say you use your deck?” than to ask, “Do you think you use the fixtures of your house to the best of your ability?” or, “Are you satisfied with the fixtures in your house?” Depending on the mission or social climate of certain houses, it may be the case that one group of students needs more lounge space and another group needs a smaller kitchen. Obviously, housing stock is limited, and it seems unlikely that any organization would move as a result of this review, but these kinds of questions might be helpful in determining the course of upkeep and renovations. Figuring out exactly what are over- and under-utilized spaces inside these houses could be a method that might help to achieve the goals of the review.
While it should be self-evident that the review committee should engage with staff – especially custodial staff – over the course of this review, the manner in which that engagement occurs often yields only partially useful information. In this review, I would suggest that the committee hold a meeting where they brainstorm the exact questions they would like to ask staff members before they send out a survey or bring people into meetings. The most useful information is, again, the most specific: figure out how houses take care of their specific equipment, how many barrels of trash people generate, how much electricity they use, etc. Staff members will have different kinds of specific information than students, and the questions should take that into account. Currently, these rules function well to ensure that the houses are full of students, but they do a bad job of predicting future student needs, even when those needs are obvious. Having more specific information about these needs would increase the predictive power of the rules, and more effective rules would increase overall student satisfaction. I look forward to reading the committee’s report, hope these suggestions might be of some small help and would encourage readers of this newspaper to engage enthusiastically with this review process.
John Gosselin is a member of the class of 2020 and a member of Tavern.