Residence halls facing change-up with student placement
By HOPE RACINE
The 2015-2016 school year will see a massive overhaul in residence hall assignments for incoming freshmen to the University of Mary Washington.
A majority of the residence halls on campus are scheduled to be reassigned next year for a multitude of reasons, including maintenance and the implementation of a new living learning community program.
The current changes will take Marshall Hall offline December 2015 to install air conditioners. Following this, Russell Hall will close in the Spring semester to receive air conditioning units, and any students housed in Russell will then be moved to Marshall.
Jefferson Hall will be allotted entirely for upperclassmen singles, along with Willard Hall. Bushnell, Custis, Marshall, Mason, Randolph, Russell, Virginia and Westmoreland Halls will all be specifically designated for freshmen.
The most controversial change will be for Virginia Hall, which will become co-ed for the first time in almost 100 years. In its place, Custis Hall will be designated for all female freshmen, with Ball Hall housing all female upper classmen.
“I’m not opposed to having gender-specific dorms, but Custis is pretty small. It might not have enough room for freshman girls,” freshman Jamie Broadhead said.
However, Christine Porter, director of Residence Life, said the change is need based.
“The fact is that we don’t have the demand for a 200 person all-female building,” Porter said. “Every year we put a ton of girls in Virginia who do not want to be there.”
According to Porter, she does not anticipate that very much will change.
“Statistically speaking, with the way our school is made up, the hall will still likely be majority female. It’s not going to suddenly switch to 150 men and 50 women,” Porter said.
The majority of the residence hall changes, however, focus around the new freshman living program.
The program, centered on the freshman seminar, will place incoming students in housing specifically designated to their freshman seminar of choice in an attempt to create a support system and community for new students.
“Studies show that students placed in intentional living communities feel more connected to their school and have a more positive experience,” Porter said. “By giving them all something in common, it will bring them closer together and give them a built in support system.”
The move is one of many the school is implementing to make the transition to college more enjoyable for students.
“The freshman seminar [arrangement] would be kind of cool. As an incoming freshman, you don’t know anybody. Living in a community where you have shared interests would make the adjustment easier,” junior historic preservation major Carly Hussler said.
This program is an extension of the existing living learning communities, and has been a joint effort of Residence Life, the Office of Academics and the Office of Student Activities and Engagement.
“We want to be clear that no one is being forced into this program though,” Porter said.
There are multiple exemptions available for incoming students who do not wish to take part in the living community. Commuter students will obviously have exemptions, as well as anyone wishing to live in an all-female or gender neutral residence hall. In addition, if someone has a pre-requested roommate who is not in the same seminar, they will not have to live within the community.
“While we highly encourage it and will try to persuade students to take advantage of it, if a student doesn’t want to live with their community, they don’t have to,” Porter said.
As a joint initiative across multiple offices at school, the program will run for several years while it is assessed, and small changes might occur based on need, though Porter said she expects it to become a large facet of the freshman experience at UMW.
“We are also working on the concept of an upperclassmen student mentor leader who will serve not only as the orientation leader, but work with students throughout the year,” Porter said.
The new process will only have one effect on upperclassmen, as the housing registration process will change.
“Starting next year, upperclassmen will do all their housing selection online, just like class registration. Only freshmen will need to do their registration in person, at one of the various events we will have set up throughout the summer,” Porter said.
According to Porter, this type of living arrangement is very common at universities around the nation, and is only the most recent in a series of changes that Residence Life has made.
During the 2014-2015 school year, students in Eagle Landing were given the opportunity to live in mixed sex suites- though according to Porter, only one apartment this year took advantage of that.
In addition, following George Mason University’s gender-neutral housing initiative last year, two other large schools within the Commonwealth have announced their plans to incorporate gender neutral housing in the coming academic year, a move that Porter says deserves some consideration.
Currently, UMW does not offer true gender neutral housing, and houses students by their biological sex. Even Madison, the Residence Hall reserved for gender-neutral housing, organizes students by biological sex within rooms, and serves more as a gender accepting community.
“I will certainly be engaging in conversations to see what such a change could mean for the community, and how it would fit in the school,” Porter said.