Author: Anahid Yahjian
Discussion regarding the possibility of mandated sophomore housing has been taking place within the administration for several weeks.
In an interview with the Weekly, Dean of Students Barbara Avery confirmed that there was a discussion at the Board of Trustees meeting in October regarding the option of required sophomore housing at Occidental.
“We’re not sure how we’ll do it,” Avery said. “We’re going to look into it. We’re still in the early stages of it.”
Avery cited the “vulnerability” of sophomore year—the result of most attention being paid to the accommodation of incoming freshmen and outgoing seniors—as the main problem to be improved upon through such a policy change. She also cited a desire within the Trustees to overcome the “sophomore slump”-characterized by lack of motivation and sometimes dropping out-and increased retention rates within the college.
Professor of Economics Jim Whitney pointed out that these talks “come at the same time as 273 new beds” opening up in the new residence hall and that it is “not a coincidence” for the College to be looking for ways to make sure students are given the opportunity to reap the added “educational value.”
Whitney, who initially opposed the construction of the new residence hall because of the financial stress it would place on the institution, doubted there would be any significant monetary gain from mandating sophomore housing. The relatively low number of sophomores living off campus—65, according to Director of Residence Life Kecia Baker—coupled with Whitney’s lack of optimism over the possibility of juniors and seniors returning to live in the new residence hall, led him to conclude that the aforementioned “educational value” was the main benefit of adopting such a policy.
“It’s not a huge number,” Baker said in regards to sophomores living off campus. She agreed with Whitney’s explanation, emphasizing that having students stay on campus would enhance the atmosphere of a “living and learning community” that the school tries to uphold. She did point out, however, that “hopefully there would be something in place for exceptions” to the policy, such as in the case of local students whose families live close to the Oxy campus.
In response to the suggestion of the unusual nature of this proposal, both Whitney and Avery pointed out that Occidental uses a list of 18 comparative institutions as points of reference when making such decisions. Initially used as a way to modify faculty salaries, the list includes liberal arts colleges such as Pomona, Claremont-McKenna, Vassar and Oberlin. According to Whitney, only five of Oxy’s peer institutions have a first-year only housing requirement, while seven have four-year requirements. He also added that policies such as these are “never retroactive.” Baker agreed.
“If it is made into a decision,” Baker said, “it wouldn’t apply to any of the current students.”
ASOC President and student representative to the Board of Trustees Ryan Bowen expressed doubts over the policy being put into effect.
“I don’t even know if that’s a reasonable goal,” he said. “It would be a frivolous task.”
He pointed out that having the new Residence Hall would bring “200 more people financing Res Life” and that would “bring in a lot of money to the school”—something keeping 65 more sophomores on campus wouldn’t achieve.
Bowen pointed out that one reason upperclassmen opt out of living on campus is financial necessity. He cited the mandatory meal plans that on-campus students must purchase as his personal reason for choosing to live off campus.
“I don’t eat $1,500 worth of food a semester,” he said, adding that he currently spends “less than $500” per semester on food purchased outside the school. He suggested modifying the meal plan policy to essentially create a “Meal Plan D” that would function more as a “pay-as-you-go” type of account with FLEX rates.
Regardless of the outcome of the discussions, Avery insisted that such a decision would not be made without significant deliberation and community involvement. She predicted that focus groups and an advisory board would be essential in the decision-making process.
Avery underscored that such talks were taking place with the best interests of students in mind. “We don’t make changes to hurt students,” she said.
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