As an institution, Occidental College continuously strives for increased student engagement with surrounding communities. Off-campus living provides a vital opportunity for students to fluidly engage with their surrounding communities, while also gaining valuable life experiences. Despite this, current Residential Education policies hinder rather than support off-campus living.
Per Residential Education policy, all seniors are allowed to live off campus, while juniors can only do so after undergoing a selective application process. While one-fifth of the junior class currently lives off campus, the opportunity to do so should be afforded to all juniors, rather than a select few.
Occidental prides itself on being one of the few liberal arts institutions located in a major metropolitan area, and its location in Los Angeles provides an invaluable opportunity for mutual exchange between students and the city. Students can actively engage with Los Angeles, whether through internships, jobs, museum visits or political rallies.
Yet students do not truly engage with the city of Los Angeles, or even the Eagle Rock community, on a daily basis beyond the realm of college-organized events. Off-campus living provides the chance for day-to-day, informal interaction with the local community; without the ability to live off campus, this is not possible.
Most mornings, my housemates and I convene on the raggedy couch on our front porch, coffee and cereal in hand, to enjoy the brief moments before the hustle of the day begins. We have become acquainted with several neighbors through this routine, including Mendel, a black labradoodle who scampers by each morning, led by his owner. Mendel’s owner has become a friend over the past few weeks, and such informal engagement with the community would be much less frequent if I lived on campus.
Formal community engagement facilitated through the college is valuable, but does not provide the natural engagement that off-campus living does. Four years ago, as a car-less first-year living in Newcomb, my chances to venture off campus were limited. That year I worked for the Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP), where I began to recognize the clear separation between myself and the high school students I tutored. This experience made me acutely aware of the “Oxy bubble.”
Well-intentioned programs such as NPP seek to immerse students in the surrounding communities, but do not provide the natural immersion that off-campus living does. Both types of off-campus engagement are critical for the personal growth of Occidental students.
The opportunity to fully integrate with Eagle Rock and the surrounding communities can only come from living in the neighborhoods themselves. By senior year, the opportune time to live off campus has passed as seniors are already consumed with thinking beyond graduation.
Off-campus living bridges the gap between the “Oxy bubble” and real life. With the opportunity to live off-campus by junior year, students must learn to cook, clean and manage bill payments, among other chores required of living on your own, preparing them for life beyond Occidental. Off-campus living allows for integration with the wider Los Angeles community while simultaneously allowing undergraduates to develop into fully functioning adults.
Occidental markets itself with a focus on location. The admissions team is wise in doing so because we have the unique opportunity to attend a liberal arts college in a bustling city. As Occidental continues to grow and compete with other liberal arts colleges, location will undoubtedly continue to be an asset. However, these words need to be put into action.
Residential Education is reluctant to let juniors live off-campus due to the fear that it will detract from community building on campus, but taking away choice from students approaching the age of 21 builds resentment, and therefore detracts from the sense of community in the end. While the college as a whole has made a commitment to engage students locally and globally, genuine local engagement is stifled by the limitations on students living off campus.