Author: Jessica Faroy
Residential Education and Housing Services (REHS) staff hosted a town hall meeting in Choi Auditorium Thursday.
Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Vice President of External Affairs Savannah D’Orazio (sophomore) and First-Year Class Senator Paul Charbonneau led the meeting with a series of questions submitted by students for a panel of REHS staff. The panel included REHS Director Chad Myers, Associate Directors Juls White and Michelle Saldana, Assistant Director of Student Conduct and Housing Services Tom Wesley and Associate Dean of Students Tim Chang.
In response to concerns over air conditioning in first-year residence halls, particularly in relation to medical and economic issues, members of the REHS panel cited financing such renovations as an obstacle. The college would need $200,000 worth of panels, sealed electrical outputs and new windows and doors because decades-old buildings are not equipped for air conditioning. The cost per building could potentially reach $1–2 million.
In order to prevent electrical overloads and a building-wide blackout, students are not permitted to buy air conditioning units, although the policy was changed this year to allow swamp coolers up to a certain voltage. Chang encourages students medically impacted by heat to address the Dean of Students Office.
Students present also called attention to the First Year Residential Experience (FYRE), questioning the effectiveness and overall purpose of the mandatory program.
According to Myers, FYRE is an extension of first-year orientation. FYRE facilitators engage in a two-day extensive training program which includes instruction from Kinesiology Professor Marcella Raney, Title IX Coordinator Ruth Jones and Intercultural Community Center staff.
“In the last few years, FYRE has changed every single year and looks very different, so I’m not married to the topics that are there, and I’m always happy to sit down with people one-on-one,” Myers said.
Students also asked questions about gender-neutral housing, specifically addressing the selection process for, and limited availability of, space in Berkus Hall and Queer House, as well as gender-neutral bathrooms in residence halls.
Saldana explained that Occidental’s application process for gender-neutral housing relies on the opportunity to create a safe space for those who need it, specifically those who feel they would not otherwise be assigned to housing that would respect their gender identity. Students not selected to live in gender-neutral housing are offered the opportunity to be put on a wait-list or discuss their application with REHS.
Currently, the college is working to re-examine the application process, re-work the language of the application and expand gender-neutral housing. Saldana expressed concern that students could misuse the application in an attempt to secure a room in Berkus Hall.
For now, there are no future plans for bathroom renovations. The college is trying to balance gender-neutral bathrooms with renovation budgets and city code regulations.
Students also asked about damage to recreational amenities in dorms like pool and foosball tables, which raised questions about budgeting and furniture replacement.
“[Damage to pool and foosball tables] wasn’t something that we felt was a need to charge the building, because first we weren’t able to find a vendor to do the actual replacement, so we didn’t think it was cost-effective or fair to charge students,” Saldana said.
Due to these damages, REHS will no longer provide replacements or new purchases toward recreational amenities. According to Chang, infrastructure will continue to be replaced and repaired, and students will be charged for damage.
In response to questions about the recent addition of the term “pre-gaming” to the Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy, Wesley said its incorporation into the policy was requested by the Student Wellness Advisory Council. Pre-gaming is a term used to describe the consumption of alcohol before attending an event and, according to Wesley, is the most dangerous way to consume alcohol.
Pre-gaming is the leading cause of alcohol-related medical transportation at Occidental, and the college determined that the Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy is a place to discourage pre-gaming among students, according to panel members.
A student also asked about enacting a “red cup” policy similar to that at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), saying it might reduce pre-gaming. CMC’s alcohol guidelines state that students may carry an open single-serving container of alcohol, but also add that any possession of alcohol by those under 21 years old is prohibited.
According to Chang, Occidental’s current policy is similar to that of CMC. He said that CMC’s “red cup” policy is not just an excuse to drink freely. According to Chang, Occidental students are stopped by Campus Safety for their behavior, not because they are carrying a cup.
“You can go ahead and walk around with any colored cup as long as you’re fine,” Chang said.
According to Occidental’s alcohol policy, underage students are not permitted to possess any open or empty alcohol containers, and no student of age is permitted to have any open containers of alcohol on campus outside of their residence hall room — provided that any roommate is also 21 or over — unless at sanctioned college events.
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