The University published the report of the undergraduate residential experience committee Thursday, releasing the details of proposed aspirations and goals for future changes to on-campus residential experience.
“The UREC report published earlier today is intended to offer a framework for a single residency model, and the report is foundational and aspirational in nature,” said Jennifer Luttig-Komrosky, executive director of residential services, in a email.
The model proposes a two-tiered system of “Houses,” small units of residential organization between 75-150 students, within “Neighborhoods,” larger collections of campus residences and Greek houses with shared facilities and support structures of 700-1,100 students. (The report calls the names “placeholders.”)
The report also suggests wider changes to the undergraduate academic structure for discussion, including more faculty involvement through the Faculty-in-Residence program and changing housing assignments so that Peer Advising groups live together in the same area as their PAs.
The report comes as the university is currently implementing the Housing Master Plan – the overall plan to reconstruct campus houses and construct new residence buildings – along with this academic year’s introduction of the two-year housing requirement for the Class of 2021 and beyond.
According to the Undergraduate Residential Experience Committee’s report, the proposed changes would affect current residential systems for 2018-19 at the earliest.
Creating equity in residential experience
The proposal is meant to ensure students “have equity of opportunity regardless of their school, background, or campus residence.” It focuses on four pillars: “community,” “student agency,” “care and support” and “academic linkages.”
Surveys cited by the report indicate that students who participate in residential colleges, who comprise about 30 percent of NU’s undergraduate residential population, report higher satisfaction with their experiences than students in other types of housing.
The new residential model draws significantly on the residential college system, but is “guided by the principle that whatever the institution does for one student, it does for all,” according to the report.
“We are emphasizing universality and community of experience, and we are doing this by creating a Neighborhood experience,” said Paul Riel, co-chair of the committee and assistant vice president for residential and dining services, in a press release announcing the proposal.
Sharing spaces and services
The core idea of the model is to create two levels of residential structure, with Houses as parts of Neighborhoods.
Houses are intended to be places where students can “naturally find a sense of home, close friendships, and a deep sense of belonging,” according to the report. The goal of the Houses is to “universalize the fundamentals of residential colleges” because of their ongoing success in forming student communities and involving faculty.
Smaller campus residences, such as Goodrich, along with Greek residences, would likely be standalone Houses. Larger buildings, such as Foster-Walker Complex, would likely host multiple Houses because it would be difficult to form a sense of community within larger populations. The report does not specify criteria for how to determine if a building will be divided into multiple Houses.
But having large Neighborhoods of 700-1,100 students would allow Neighborhoods to deliver centralized services and facilities, according to the report. Each Neighborhood would have a dining location, collaboration spaces, fitness rooms, multi-functional spaces, classrooms and a mailroom. The report also proposes a 24/7 “operations desk” to handle issues such as lockouts, equipment checkouts and maintenance issues, along with a campus shuttle stop in each Neighborhood.
All residents within a Neighborhood would have access to those shared facilities. Only House residents would be able to access certain private spaces within their House, which have not been exactly determined but would correspond with the residential reconstructions in the Housing Master Plan.
Each Neighborhood would have at least one affiliated Faculty-in-Residence member and one Residential Director. Programs such as off-campus trips would be coordinated at the Neighborhood level. The report also recommends “Neighborhood-based events,” such as a One Book One Northwestern event held in a Neighborhood venue.
Including Greek housing
Under the proposed model, fraternity and sorority buildings would be included as Houses within their local Neighborhood. The report states that the Houses were partially developed to integrate Greek housing into the residential system model, so students living in Greek housing would have access to neighborhood-based facilities and advisers.
But, according to the report, residents of Greek-unaffiliated housing in a Neighborhood would not have access to Greek houses, since they lack sufficient space for Neighborhood-wide facilities.
The report does not describe how the relationship between Greek organizations and Neighborhoods would work. It also identified that Greek organizations without campus housing would be “placed at a disadvantage,” and suggested that particular residence floors could be reserved for members of such Greek houses, but “more extensive dialogue” would be needed.
Providing University services through Neighborhoods
The report suggests including academic programming and initiatives within the Neighborhood model. For example, classes could be taught in Neighborhood classrooms. Such classes would not be restricted to residents from the neighborhood, but the report says the committee believes students would interested in taking classes close to or in their House.
The committee also proposed “neighborhood liaisons” for each Neighborhood, who would link students to University departments such as Northwestern Career Advancement or Undergraduate Research and provide them with references and information. Such liaisons could be University staff, graduate students or undergraduates. The liaisons would be “content-expert resources” acting as the “first point of contact” for their respective offices, and the committee recognized in the report that currently “undergraduates fulfill an array of outreach and support roles.”
The proposal also suggests that academic support services, such as undergraduate advising, could be offered through Neighborhoods as “spokes” attached to an Academic Resource Center.
According to the report, “support units in the Division of Student Affairs” would have drop-in hours and outreach in Neighborhoods while “sensitive work” continues in central offices, so “students who are uncertain about whether or how to access these support units” would have a resource. The report does not specify what such support units are, but the Division of Student Affairs includes offices like University Health Services, CAPS, the Office of Student Conduct and CARE.
Relating into campus life
The committee report does not provide details on exactly how students living on campus would be assigned to Houses and Neighborhoods, but proposes that new students would be able to preference buildings or Houses within an assigned Neighborhood.
Students could be assigned so Neighborhoods would be “representative microcosms of the larger student populations,” but Houses would not be. Once assigned, students would be expected to reside within the same Neighborhood for the two-year housing requirement, and could continue to be affiliated and have access to Neighborhood facilities and resources even after they move off-campus. Exceptions may be made for students to move to another Neighborhood to live in a Greek house, for example.
The committee recommends that a better algorithm be devised to consider “a variety of preferences,” and would balance exposing students to “peers from different backgrounds and with different interests” while “ensuring no student feels alone or isolated in their home.”
Students would still participate in the leadership and governance of their communities. According to the report, there are currently no specifics about how student governance would look like until details of Neighborhoods and Houses are confirmed. The committee suggested the two residential associations, the Residential Hall Association (for residential halls) and the Residential College Board (for residential colleges) would need to be combined, and said the success of executive boards and programming boards is linked to their ability to manage money.
Under the proposed model, residences would no longer be able to set social dues and individual residents would no longer contribute fees on a per-activity basis. Instead, the report proposes a single residential student activity fee to fund residential activities, which would permit financial aid to cover the fee as a cost of attendance. (Currently, student dues for residential colleges are not covered by financial aid.)
The committee also proposes that Residential Services take over the cost of maintenance and capital expenses for repairs and facilities enhancements instead of faculty, staff and student leaders within residences and using local budgets. This would “allow them to focus their attention on programming and community-building.”
The University is currently inviting members of the community to provide feedback on the committee’s proposed residential model, and plans to collect feedback at town hall meetings and via email at [email protected], according to a press release.