By Jenni Chadick, assistant director of residence life
Recently, there have been some articles on the web (here and here are two examples) residence life world that have highlighted how the shine and sparkle of newer suite-style halls are deadly to positive student outcomes during first year. Turns out, traditional “dorms” (i.e. corridor style with gang bathrooms) are really good at promoting student success. This runs counter to what many students say they want – a perpetual issue in higher education. See, the thing is, institutions often want to respond to what students say they want in order to attract students to a campus – better food or amenities, better facilities (i.e. an amazing gym or state of the art pool), programming that focuses on free food and socializing instead of learning, or even freedom from rules (i.e. the “quiet hours are unnecessary, and no one actually cares” phenomenon. I can tell you, students do care, they are just afraid to speak up). Yet in so many cases, what students say they want isn’t necessarily what they need, or even say they wish they had by the time they graduate. I’ve even seen this as we plan and promote our sophomore engagement initiatives – seniors who say “I wish the administration had made sure I had known about X or how to do Y” but current sophomores reporting that they aren’t interested in knowing about X or how to do Y. That’s a whole other blog post though!
This is what summer in student affairs looks like – bridging the gap between student expectations and student outcomes. We as higher education professionals know a few things to be true about students in the aggregate – students that are engaged are more likely to persist and graduate (i.e. continue all four years and obtain a degree); that most students will struggle to live with a roommate but the students who by chance end up without a roommate at move in are the most distressed; that many students will struggle to have conversations about diversity and difference yet every year’s entering class is more diverse than the last (at least at Puget Sound); and that with college costs skyrocketing it is imperative that everyone on our campus continue to assess and evaluate everything we do to ensure at our core we are promoting student success and learning despite what students might say they want. Responding to the landscape of higher education is challenging in its own right, but it’s near impossible in the day-to-day minutia of the academic calendar year.
That’s what makes summer my special-favorite-time. It’s a time for research and reflection, to re-center both professionally and personally, and put things back in perspective. It allows for time to read the articles about how traditional residence halls actually have something very special going for them – and having the time to write a blog post to tell you all about it! Because hopefully one of you reading this out there is an incoming new student, and while you’ve already made the good choice to attend Puget Sound this fall, maybe you are wondering what the heck your new home will look and feel like. I can tell you we have nothing like this or this or this on our campus (and neither do most campuses really, as these are mostly off-campus housing options). But that is okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. The floor to ceiling windows are very pretty, it’s true. And some may argue that rooftop pool and tanning salon on site is essential to balance and well being. But our campus would argue that relaxing on the quad with a Frisbee is a perfect way to blow off steam after class, as well as form the connections with peers that really enhance the college experience.
Yes, there will be times you wish you had a private bathroom. Yes, there will be times when you wish you had your own room. There will definitely be times your roommate/hallmate/suitemate is playing music too loud or watching that show you hate, or just generally being a human being and that somehow will irritate the living daylights out of you. But that is essential to your growth and learning. And beyond being a very important part of your interpersonal development, believe it or not, you will miss that closeness at some point. The ability to have someone (maybe your roommate, maybe next door) to vent to after a tough class, or who exposes you to a whole different genre of literature/music/movies that you never would have though you’d be interested in, or who will provide endless entertainment in your adult life with stories of “remember that one time so-and-so did such-and-such.” These kind of experiences are almost guaranteed to happen in those traditional residence halls, which is why we call them res halls and not dorms. They are more than just a place to sleep. Res halls are vibrant communities where all those practical things you will learn in the classroom abruptly clash with real life. Where expectations and outcomes meet. And just like summer in res life, being a resident in res life is a great time for reflection and action. So get ready for an awesome adventure!