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Old Micozzie Had a Barn

in Campus Journal by
My room as it first appeared when I moved in. It’s become much more hospitable, but thanks to the bright red walls, my family will forever know it as “Emilie’s bordello.”

‘Ee eye ee eye oh’ and in that Barn he had some Swatties. To any uninitiated freshmen: on the grueling walk back from Target, as you haul along a stolen cart that will soon be lost forever in the bowels of the Crum, you may stumble upon a massive brown(ish) building.  It may look like any other weatherbeaten, misshapen old house, but creep closer and the sweet scent of weed will tickle your nostrils. A small path of beer cans will guide you to the porch, and on warm summer nights, some say you can hear the laughter of residents past who used to sit there and smoke while watching passersby.

 

(Alternatively, come late enough on a Friday night and you can hear the music blasting out of whatever apartment is throwing a party, get a mouthful of smoke, and walk into a crowd of 5 to 20 people.)

 

More prosaically, the Barn is made up of six four-bedroom apartments and one terrifying basement; Micozzie Realtors has owned it for years and usually rents to Swat students for around $300 per month. The cheapness, sense of independence, and fairly easy access to campus has made it an attractive option for students coming back from study abroad or trying to get more freedom than a dorm allows. It’s also helped the Barn develop a reputation as a dirty hideout for artsy junkies — those are basically the terms in which I first heard it described during my freshman year. When I visited for the first time, I was half-expecting to trip over used needles. I was surrounded by unknown upperclassmen who actually seemed to know their way around — it was terrifying. Caroline Reynier 20 had a similar experience.

 

“Someone invited me to a party freshman year. It was my first week, so I was very intimidated cause there was a bunch of older people… and it did seem like a very different community from frat parties” recounted Reynier, leaning against the kitchen counter in my 3rd floor Barn apartment.

 

It does take determination to move off-campus in a school where 95 percent of students choose to live in college housing. Colette Gerstmann ’18 has lived in the Barn since her sophomore spring and has seen several people come and go.

 

“The Barn is different depending on when you get there, the culture keeps changing. You get groups of people who want to live alternatively in some way — by having alternative parties, being able to cook, or having a communal lifestyle, people who want to have cats, who are more distant from Swarthmore.”

 

In my case, I first knew the Barn as something of an alternative, artsy queer scene — perhaps less so since the class of 2017, which made up a sizeable and very visible chunk of the Barn population, graduated in the spring. Only a handful of seniors and super seniors remain from the last few years.

 

Throughout my freshman year, a number of longtime Barn residents organized “Liturgy,” a series of alternative queer, and POC-centered parties that introduced my comrades and me to the Barn life. Much like Reynier, I remember the Liturgy parties as slightly terrifying events full of mysterious upperclassmen we barely knew. We stumbled around, uncertain whether we’d be swooped or discover some mystery of life (or maybe I was just drunk and overdramatic). These days, most formal (read: there’s a Facebook page) events are thrown in apartment 3N, home to a group of sophomores who discovered the Barn through the Liturgy parties and were drawn to its “alternative” vibe. But something’s changed.

 

3N resident Daria Matescu ’20 has unofficially taken over the Barn’s party hosting.

 

“[The Barn] has a history of having parties that are radically different from anything else available on campus,” explained Matescu.

 

And she has been working to uphold that tradition. The Barn is definitely still a party space  – come by on a Friday or Saturday night, and chances are there will be a few smokers scattered around the yard. But something has changed.

 

Although she freely admits that the Barn’s nature is ever-changing, Gerstmann expresses hints of wistfulness when remembering its former culture.

 

“[The Barn is] becoming more cliquey based on apartments — there used to be traces of the Barn co-op, people splitting up groceries and having meals together. That was mostly gone by the time I got here, but there were some traces, people were friends across apartments. I feel like now it’s gone.”

 

There is no longer a sense of shared responsibility for communal areas, which now seem slightly neglected. While the various residents are generally friendly to each other, we are rarely brought together by common events. Pretty much all residents are in the class of 2020 or graduating this year, meaning there is something of a breach between the two “generations.” The Barn may be made up of several smaller communities, but it no longer has one overarching “theme.”

 

And yet, in spite of the rodents and the sloppiness and the “gentrification,” over the past few years this crumbling building has meant a lot to its residents.

 

“I was drawn to [the Barn] because I wanted to be able to have a direct influence on campus party culture […] to try and preserve the Barn’s history of existing as a safer space for queer folks, people of color, and women,” Matescu explained

The year of Liturgy is over, but Barn residents such as Matescu are determined to influence campus culture and offer a viable alternative party scene. And to its residents, the Barn is more than just a party space.

 

“It made me feel like a real person — living on campus sometimes I felt like I was just going to all these buildings. Walking off campus and crossing the street and passing the church, it made me feel like I’m in a real place,” recalls Gerstmann in a brief moment of nostalgia.

 

Maybe something was lost in the process of students moving in and out, changing the house’s culture and atmosphere. The Barn is definitely not the vaguely mythical space I once envisioned. But does it really have to be? Fellow sophomores, it’s up to you to decide what this space should be. (Don’t look at me, I just want to bake cookies and make people eat them). An old-fashioned hippie commune where everyone makes quinoa together? A queer arthouse? Bear with me as the year goes on and I discover the newest version of the Barn, meeting residents old and new and exploring what new communities have been created.

Dramatic exit from my apartment – who knows what scandalous scenes shook this hall?

Strath Haven, Lodges to go offline next year

in Around Campus/News by

The administration will be closing the Strath Haven apartments and one of the Worth Lodges in the 2017-18 academic year in order to repair facilities. At the same time, the college will be adding more than one hundred beds to the on-campus housing inventory with the addition of the New PPR apartments.

Catrìona Anderson ’20 had hoped to live in the Strath Haven apartments for the 2017-18 academic year. When she found out the college would be closing the condominium to student housing next year, she was disappointed she had to change her plans.

“I would have really liked to live in Strath Haven because it was a way to get off the meal plan, and to save a lot of money that way without also having to arrange my own housing off campus,” said Anderson, who will be living in the Barn instead.

Anderson emailed administration in February to inquire about living in Strath Haven. She learned then that the apartments would be closed to students, but she felt it was unfair that the administration did not make this information publicly available until late in the process.

“You had to email them and ask, rather than it just being posted on the website or available somehow publicly so people would know rather than finding out at the last minute. If they knew it that far ahead of time, why didn’t they announce it and make it so students would know?” she said.

Assistant director of residential communities Isaiah Thomas could not be reached for comment.

Anderson listed a lower cost of living as one of the appeals of off-campus housing. She believed that the college should give stipends to students who want to live off-campus, in order to encourage students to make their own housing arrangements and thereby reduce crowding in dorms.

“I personally don’t understand why the college doesn’t give [students] a stipend if they choose to live off-campus, why they can’t get that money as a stipend and use it to fund their own housing, so students have more options. There’s so much pressure on housing with the rise in enrollment,” she said.

Manager of the Strath Haven Condominium Association Terri May affirmed that the college’s decision to close the apartments to student housing does not impact the association or the business of the condominium, as the college owns those units.

“The association has no involvement with the units the college uses for housing. The college owns those units, and their decision to not use them for housing will not impact the association in anyway. [It’s] very similar to when any owner owns a unit and has it unoccupied,” she wrote.

According to Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Brown, the opening of New PPR will occur in conjunction with repairs to Strath Haven and the Lodges.

“The additional new housing units will provide us with the opportunity to reduce crowding in some of our other residence halls, make necessary repairs to some facilities including Strath Haven and the Lodges, and determine our long-term strategies for maintaining our housing stock,” Brown said.

He expected that the new apartments would offer an apartment-like experience to those students who wanted to live in Strath Haven or the Lodges, but with upgraded facilities. He listed heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems among the facilities that need improvement in the Strath Haven units.

“Many of the Strath Haven units are ‘efficiencies’ without adequate kitchen facilities.  The new PPR Apartments will be a significant improvement for those students interested in an apartment-like experience,” Brown said.

The New PPR apartments will have 120 beds and will offer suite-style arrangements. New PRR will consist largely of seniors, whereas Strath Haven and the Lodges were more open to underclassmen. According to Brown, the facility will also be one of the most environmentally sustainable buildings on campus, using both geothermal energy and solar power. Students will be expected to participate in “green” initiatives such as composting.

“We are looking forward to welcoming our first residents to the PPR apartments for next semester.  It should be a wonderful enhancement to the student experience at Swarthmore,” Brown said.

While Strath Haven and a portion of the Lodges will go offline in the coming academic year, many students will have the opportunity to live in the New PPR building as the college makes improvements to the Strath Haven and Worth facilities.

Summer Housing, Hot Mess

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

As the semester begins to wrap up, students are swamped with a variety of emotions. Some seniors are feeling nostalgic toward leaving Swarthmore, yet excited for what lies ahead. Other students are drowning in final papers but relieved that this semester is finally coming to a close. They are ready for a chance to refresh and new opportunities around the corner. Yet, for many Swatties staying on campus this year, this summer may not look as promising or be as well-organized as they had hoped. Instead, these Swatties are dreading the one option for summer housing and many are unsure if they will have housing at all.

We at the Phoenix find the housing situation for this summer particularly problematic and unfair to the students staying at Swarthmore. All students will be housed in Mary Lyons Dormitory, which is the furthest dorm from campus as well as one of the furthest dorms from the train station. Considering that students will either be doing research with professors on campus, helping with summer camps around campus, working on campus, or completing an internship that requires public transportation to Philadelphia or Chester, ML is the least practical option for students staying on campus. Instead, it provides the most inconvenience and offers the most difficulty for students working at Swat this summer.

We at the Phoenix acknowledge that it would make sense to place students in ML if they had no other dorms available, if the dorm provided housing to the largest amount of students, or if the dorm offered some practical benefits that other dorms can’t. However, ML possesses none of these qualities. Swarthmore obviously has plenty of other dorms on campus for housing students. Even given that Swarthmore hosts many summer camps that require lodging for prospective or incoming students, these camps will not require all of the rooms in Wharton, Willets, Alice Paul, David Kemp, Parrish, Dana, Hallowell, and Danawell. Besides, while many prospective and incoming student camps may take place for two to six weeks, most of the students conducting research, interning, or working on campus will be here all summer, meaning they deserve convenient housing options, considering their stay at Swarthmore for the summer is much more permanent.

ML is also the dorm with the largest amount of singles. While this may sound like a benefit, since ML would offer more students the opportunity to live alone, this means that it houses fewer students. With fewer rooms to offer, more students are left on the summer housing waitlist, potentially without any housing at all this summer. For low-income students or students relying on living at Swat for the summer, this situation is extremely stressful and problematic. Rose See ’19, a student placed on the summer housing waitlist, upon finding out she would most likely not have housing for the summer, stated that she was terrified that she would not be able to carry out her campus job for the summer. She describes how “she had nowhere else to go” and “summer housing at Swarthmore was how she expected to have a place to live until the end of the summer.” When See mentioned this to Residential Life, their response was that they simply could not offer a room because they give priority to students conducting research and only have a limited number of rooms to offer. This situation means that not only are students left to stress about where to live, but they are also made to feel less valued at the college because it is as if they are not seen as worthwhile to the college if they are not serving a research purpose. Luckily, See was able to find housing in the Barn for the entirety of summer and will keep her summer job working in the Peace Collection library, but many students on the waitlist may not be as lucky.

Finally, we at the Phoenix emphasize that ML offers no practical benefits to students that makes it a viable option to house students. The dorm only has one small kitchen in the basement, meaning it will be difficult for more than a few students to consistently cook meals for themselves despite the fact that Sharples is only open for limited hours. The dorm also does not provide air conditioning except in the main lounge, promising an uncomfortable and humid experience for summer students.

Ultimately, we at the Phoenix are disappointed by the summer housing situation offered by the college and believe that Swarthmore should take into consideration both the practical problems of living in ML as well as the concerns and difficulties that the dorm will impose for the students. Students staying at Swarthmore for the summer clearly care for the college and want to dedicate their time toward contributing to the community. The housing situation should provide the same support and concern for the students as well.

RA selection begins, will possibly include sophomores in future

in Around Campus/News by

The application window for Resident Assistants for the 2017-2018 school year closed just over a week and a half ago on Monday the 13th. Over the next month, members of the classes of 2018 and 2019 who applied will go through group interviews, solo interviews and lengthy review by the RA Selection Committee and the Office of Student Engagement. At the end of March they will find out whether they’ve been chosen as an RA or not. Several months later, during the summer, the new RAs will find out which hall they’ll be assigned to for the coming year. One new change, which may happen in upcoming years, the potential for sophomores to be considered for predominantly first year halls.

The RA selection process is a collaboration between the RA Selection Committee and OSE. The RA Selection Committee is a student committee composed of Student Government Organization appointees and senior RAs, as explained by Isaiah Thomas, Assistant Director of Residential Communities.

Members of the RA Selection Committee are chosen via Student Government Appointments as well as Senior RAs who apply and are selected by the Office of Student Engagement Staff.  Historically, we have also allowed Student Government Appointments from previous years to re-serve on the committee, as they have been through the process and bring a wealth of value to the process,” said Thomas.

The student committee, however, very explicitly does not make any final decisions regarding RA selection. Instead, they participate in the interview process and provide recommendations to OSE.

The RA Selection Committee’s role is to assist the Office of Student Engagement with the various aspects of the selection process, which includes information sessions, group interviews, and individual interviews.  The Selection Committee then provides their feedback to the Office of Student Engagement.  The Office of Student Engagement uses their feedback in making the final decision,” said Thomas.  

Once chosen, RA hall assignments will be decided over the summer, and then the new RAs will return in August to be trained.

Hall assignments are based on several factors.  The first factor is that candidates give thorough feedback in both their application and interview of the communities they most want to work in.  Also, as the selection process requires candidates to provide recommendations, recommenders give feedback as to what types of communities a candidate would be most successful in (e.g. mostly first-year vs. mostly upperclass),” said Thomas. “Additionally, the RA Selection Committee provides feedback on where they believe candidates would be most successful as RAs.  The Office of Student Engagement takes all of this in consideration-we want to ensure a balance of skill sets and personalities in all of our communities on campus.”

The process of applying to become an RA is fairly involved, candidates submit an application and must find three recommenders, including one from a current RA. In order to help publicize the RA position and explain requirements of the RA process, the OSE holds several information sessions in early February. For re-applying RA’s, the application process is somewhat simpler. They only require two recommendations and are not required to participate in the group interview, immediately qualifying for the individual interview.

The pool of candidates for the RA position is not determined solely by students’ self-motivation to apply. Faculty and staff who identify students who they believe would be well suited to the RA position motivate students to apply to become RAs both indirectly and directly.

Often, faculty and staff members do recommend students they believe would be strong RA candidates to the Office of Student Engagement. Those students generally receive an email encouraging them to consider applying for the position.  Faculty and staff, especially those who are very familiar with the RA position, also directly encourage students to apply for the position as well,” said Thomas.

Once students have applied, they are evaluated based on their recommendations, applications, and interview performances by the committee and OSE. A variety of students are sought for RA positions, although community building skills and involvement with campus resources are indicators of promise as an RA.

“There are many qualities we look for, and there is no “perfect” candidate. We aim to hire an RA cohort that represents the great diversity of our campus.  We try to identify candidates who are great at time management and who have the time and ability to build a thriving community.  We also look for those who have a general interest in connecting with a variety of students.  Additionally, we look for candidates who have an interest in directly working with campus resources that play a significant role in the lives of students.  Some of these resources include members of the Deans’ Office, the cultural centers, Public Safety, Athletics, and Facilities & Service,” said Thomas.

The RA selection process is generally similar year to year. One fairly recent change was the introduction of the group interview to the selection process. As RAs frequently lead and facilitate group meetings, this was seen as a useful way to gauge group performance.

“The process is very similar to previous years; the group interview process was introduced in the 2014-2015 academic year to observe candidates interacting in a group setting, which is very relevant to the RA position.  Each year, the RA Selection Committee and the Office of Student Engagement may tweak and update processes for improvement.  As an example, the types of activities and questions candidates are asked in group and individual interviews may differ from one year to the next,” said Thomas.

Thomas stressed how allowing sophomores to become RA’s would allow for sophomores to gain more leadership positions on campus.

“I believe that as the needs of Swarthmore students are ever-changing, and housing at Swat also changes (i.e. the PPR Apartments opening in Fall 2017), there is always the potential for change.  One change that the Office of Student Engagement had begun to explore is the possibility of allowing sophomores to apply as RAs for predominantly first-year communities such as Mary Lyons and Willets,” said Thomas. “Much of this idea stemmed from the desire to have ample opportunities for students of all class years to build leadership and community development skills. Currently, a number of other peer leader positions (DPAs, SAMs, GAs) allow sophomores to apply.  We will continue to have conversations with the current RAs, the Housing Committee, as well as the general student body and seek feedback about this potential new initiative.”

Although Willets is known as a particularly loud dorm, it usually hosts several predominantly first-year halls and has also developed a reputation as a rewarding place for RAs to work.

“Well, Willets is the best dorm and being a Willets RA is the best job, so I’m pretty excited that they’re opening up the opportunity to be a three-year Willets RA. I know that getting into Willets as an RA was pretty difficult in years past, so I expect the competition to be fierce,” said Lihu Ben-Ezri-Ravin ’16, who was an RA in Willets for the 2015-2016 academic year.

“Many RAs asked for Willets when I was there. It was pretty widely known as the most rewarding place to work.”

The practice of creating first-year halls, is also fairly recent. Although the consideration of sophomores for the position is not set, it is clear that as the Swarthmore community continues to grow and evolve, and the college housing offerings grow and evolve to meet the demands of that community, the peer leadership positions for residential communities will also continue to evolve.

College moves summer housing to Willets, makes meal plan mandatory

in Around Campus/News by

Students who choose to live on campus for the coming summer will have to stay in Willets Hall. In addition, students must also pay a new mandatory fee of $500 for a meal plan, increasing the total cost of staying on campus to $1,100. Many expressed concerns about the availability of amenities, namely the availability of kitchen spaces and air conditioning.

According to Assistant Dean and Director for Student Engagement Rachel Head Mary Lyon, which has been an option for summer housing, has “a large kitchen and in-suite bathrooms.” However, John Gagnon ’17, who lived in ML the summer after his freshman year, has mixed feelings about the amenities offered.

Although Gagnon generally had a fine experience, he is disappointed by ML’s kitchen spaces. “I was ultimately a little disillusioned with the problems that resulted from that many people trying to share two kitchen spaces,” said Gagnon. “It was often hard to get space to cook,” he said. “People wouldn’t clean up after themselves, and it became a general mess at times.”

For the coming summer, Gagnon is planning to live in the barn, a cooperative living community run by students.

Last summer, the college offered housing in Parrish and Mertz because of a two-year renovation in ML. However, due to Parrish’s high population of seniors (who have an extended move-out date), move-ins for summer poses a challenge.

Willets, which will be offered for the coming summer, will address such difficulty. Its advantage, according to Head, is that it has a relatively low senior population, meaning that transitions from move-outs to move-ins will be smoother than was the case in Parrish.

Additionally, since many students who will stay on campus will be taking part in will be researching or working with college offices, Willets has the advantage of being close to main buildings on campus.

Unfortunately, Willets, while having the aforementioned advantages, does not have AC services. For Kyle Yee ’19, this drawback is a major deterrent, even despite Willets’ proximity to campus. “I don’t really mind where I live to be honest; I just care about the amenities, which means bathrooms, ACs, and kitchen,” he said.

“The AC thing is a killer… It’s just surprising that they’d pick a place without AC, especially when there are other places with AC on campus.”

Consequently, Yee will spend two hundred dollars more to sublet an off-campus apartment, a decision which, according to him, is worth the cost.

While Yee needs to pay more for an off-campus apartment, Killian McGinnis ’18 actually has found the off-campus option more affordable. McGinnis is sharing the rent with a friend, spending less than the on-campus rent. In addition, she was awarded a grant by the Lang Center, which covers the cost of her summer off-campus rent. The grant, however, would not have covered on-campus housing for the summer.

In the future, the college will consider New PPR, which will open Fall 2017, as a summer housing option. According to Head, PPR will be all apartment-style housing and have kitchens in each unit. This will allow those looking for on-campus housing to consider options with better amenities. Head also mentioned the growing demand for on-campus housing. And so as the need for on-campus summer housing rises, the college will hopefully find an accommodating solution.

 

Moving off-campus to find a new life, and a fridge full of kale

in Campus Journal/Columns/Swassip Girl by

I am always humbled and amused by how quickly my fall finals-induced hatred of Swarthmore transforms into a being-at-home-sucks-inspired love of the same. Such is our toxic love affair with this ridiculous college: can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Home has non-Sharples food and your mom, but also racist grandparents and awkward social engagements with high school boyfriends. Swat has Pub Nite and your best buds, but also pasta bar and a constant sense of academic inferiority. This mood-swing cycle of going home and coming back is emotionally draining, and it seems that the Swarthmore collective conscious believes that the only way to escape this dizzying rotation is to finally graduate into The Real World. While I still go to Swarthmore, and still go home during breaks, I’ve decided to expedite my entrance into The Real World: As of this spring, I live off campus.

Just two weeks into the semester, life off campus has made schoolwork less all-encompassing. My hundreds of pages of reading per week are necessarily tempered by weirder, adultier problems, like cooking myself dinners that include vegetables more substantial than the dehydrated ones that come in ramen packets. And cleaning up the flood of water spewed into my kitchen at one in the morning by our broken washing machine. And freaking out one night because the apartment reeked of natural gas after someone knocked the knob on our gas stove. I have to pay rent and buy toilet paper and worry about whether my severely mildewed shower curtain is a health concern.

Incredibly, the addition to my life of scary adult problems has somehow reduced my stress instead of amplified it. My new set of shit to deal with has had the effect of putting Swarthmore’s craziness into better perspective. Now, when I want to or need to, I can remove myself from Swarthmore’s clutches, cook some food (from my fridge! With my stove!), chill in my (full-sized!) bed, and cuddle with some of my neighbors’ cats (real ones!). Though I’ve always lived on the other side of the SEPTA tracks while at Swarthmore, first in Mary Lyons and then in Roberts, living outside of the college’s purview has taken the edge off of what would ordinarily be a grossly overwhelming schedule for me. The giant stress cloud that hovers endlessly over Swarthmore’s campus doesn’t make it as far as the Barn. I’m free!

But, of course, there are necessarily some trade-offs. While I’m not much farther away from campus at the Barn than when I lived Roberts, I am far less inclined to get my butt out of bed and go to class or Sharples or parties. I used to feel compelled to go out on weekends just to avoid sitting in my musty, sad dorm room. While in Roberts, I roomed in a triple with no windows besides a giant, leaky skylight. The harmless but noisy set of ghosts who I think live in the walls accounted for most of the dorm’s meager hall life. I never hung out there for long except to sleep. Now, I have my own bedroom in an apartment filled with a new barrage of wonderful domestic amenities, like a working bathtub and adjustable heat. I have blue bedroom walls and like, several avocados in the fridge. I can light candles! I have a spice rack! How am I supposed to go sit in McCabe when my not-McCabe living quarters are so cozy? The weekly choice between a rando frat party and watching a John Hughes movie in my PJs is being increasingly weighted towards the latter. If you don’t see me around my usual campus haunts, you’ll know it’s because I’ve tried and failed to come up with a reason to abandon my lodgings.

I won’t become a complete social recluse, though. Individual barn apartments throw parties now and again, though most of campus never experiences them. By virtue of the scant space and the population of hipper-than-thou occupants, Barn parties are generally smaller affairs with weirder music. Dancing happens, but only in small bursts punctuating the flow of partygoers from one bedroom to another, from someone’s kitchen down to the front porch for a cigarette. Barn parties, so far as I can tell, typically involve low-key chitchat, box wine, and a vague concern about noise levels for fear of the arrival of Real Swarthmore Police. Though you might not be able to return immediately to your bedroom when they’re done like I can (!), I’d recommend keeping your eyes open for any upcoming Barn parties if you’re one of those who is less inspired by beer pong and strobe lights, but who still wants to get drunk in a gross, run-down building surrounded by Swatties.

Maybe my new, less stressed state of being is a result of a newfound maturity, but I’m pretty sure it’s just my house. I moved off-campus for the heck of it, but little did I know dorm life had been a detriment to my mental health. Only 7% of students live off campus! Who knows how many people are wasting away in Willets wondering how they will ever escape the Swarthmore blues? When will they realize that freedom lies only a few blocks away in one of the several non-Swarthmore College housing options? I realize I’ve never actually lived on campus, so I can’t really speak to its effects on student well being, but I will stand by my assertion that a personal bathroom, a fridge full of kale, and a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle in progress on the coffee table will improve anyone’s semester.

New suite style dorms to be built for 2017

in Around Campus/News by

The college will build new suite-style housing alongside the baseball fields next to PPR, scheduled to be open in the Fall 2017 semester. The new residential building, tentatively called NPPR (or New PPR), will ensure that there will be a sufficient amount of on-campus housing to accommodate the anticipated growth in student body over the coming years.

The planning process for the new residential hall began one and a half years ago with the combination of the input from students, a committee and the Dean’s office. Studies were conducted on possible dorm sites, taking into account how construction would affect the layout of campus and student population density. One of the driving factors in the decision to construct NPPR was to adhere to the college’s plan to increase the size of the student body by creating more bed space.

“As part of the college’s strategic plan, the college will see a small increase in total student enrollment,” said Dean Rachel Head. “The opening of New PPR in the Fall of 2017 will allow us to comfortably house all students who would like to live in campus housing.”

The suite style housing will be built as an expansion on the PPR Cluster, which is currently made up of Palmer, Pittinger and Roberts Halls. The NPPR will have a total of 21 suites, containing an average of five people each, for a total capacity of 121 residents. The new hall will back up against the baseball fields, and an intentional quad space will be formed between the new building and the existing halls of Palmer, Pittinger and Roberts.

“We want to create a vibrant outdoor space and provide for a mass of people around the same size as Danawell, AP or DK, [of] about 300 students,” said Susan Smythe, ADA Program Coordinator. “This will make up a good sized community so that students won’t feel marooned, but more energized.”

Students have expressed scepticism about the ability of suite-style housing to increase the social dynamic on campus. “From what I’ve seen of suite living at Yale, it’s not very conducive for hall life,” said Jacky Ye ‘19. “They’re great for throwing parties and for social gatherings, if you get along with your suitemates, but don’t encourage you to leave your suite to get to know the people living next to you.”

In addition to creating more living space, the suite-style housing will provide a more independent and apartment-style atmosphere than most campus dorms. According to Head, many students, especially upperclassmen, expressed their desire to have alternative on-campus housing to the usual dorm buildings. NPPR will provide a more apartment-style living space and will likely include the option for students to opt-out of the meal plan, as part of the college’s intended changes to the meal plan in the future.

“I can imagine that the option to be on a reduced meal plan, or no meal plan, might appeal to students for a variety of different reasons, [such as] religious needs, dietary restrictions, scheduling issues, etc.,” said Dean Head. “For example, we have heard from seniors who are student teaching that having greater freedom on when and how they eat would be appreciated.”

The suite style housing, which includes kitchen facilities, and the proposed changes in the meal plan would allow students more independence and flexibility in how and when they have meals.

“We shouldn’t be forced by the school to buy their meal plan just on principle,” said Colin Salama ‘19. “There is significant pressure to eat with other people in Sharples, and Essies doesn’t even open until 8 for dinner meal swipes. If there were no meal plans, you could eat whenever without feeling pressured to do so and choose to cook for yourself or get take-out.”

One main focus throughout the design process has been the need to adhere to high environmental standards and create a sustainable building. According to Smythe, the design of the building was repeatedly compared to similar residential buildings to make it as efficient and sustainable as possible.

“[Environmental standards] are exceptionally important and the planning process can’t happen without taking those standards into account,” said Dean Head. “Last year, the College hosted a planning meeting to talk about environmental standards and sustainability; a number of students, faculty, and staff met with the architects and design firms working on the building.”

Photovoltaic roofing will be incorporated into the building design to provide electricity. The building will also use geothermal ground source heating implement a rain-water collection system to gather water for toilets. Shower water meters will be put in place to promote awareness on water usage. Composting bins will be available, as will guidance on what and how to compost. The small bedrooms and lack of lounges will also reduce NPPR’s carbon footprint. Research may also be conducted using NPPR to see how much energy is saved by incorporating sustainable elements.

Construction is set to begin later on in the spring semester, but many of the details are still being worked out. Questions such as those of sustainability continue to be under discussion, and student input is being weighed in the planning of future buildings and projects.

What do policy goals have to do with behavior shifts?

in Columns/Opinions by

Let me start of by saying that if you haven’t watched “The Wire,” you have to watch “The Wire.”

But if you don’t have time for 5 seasons of the most important American TV show ever made, then at least watch series creator David Simon’s new mini-series “Show Me A Hero.” It focuses on the court ordered placement of public housing in Yonkers, NY in the 1980s and its ripple effects throughout the political and social networks of the city. The court forced Yonkers to construct housing in white neighborhoods in order to combat the segregated nature of the Yonkers residential areas, but was viscerally opposed by the white neighborhoods seeking to defend their property values and their perceived security from crime. The political fallout on the Yonkers City Council, as well as the effect on the day to day lives of the Yonkers citizens, takes the central role in the drama.

However, I’m going to focus on one specific theme. At the center of the narrative is the use of “defensive housing,” a notable public housing innovation. Traditional public housing was based around the apartment complex, where stairwells and courtyards had unclear ownership, and thus often became loci for crime and property damage. Defensive housing instead emphasized townhouses scattered around a region, each with a front and back lawn, such that there was a desire to “defend” one’s own clearly delineated property.

Most interesting is the moral coerciveness central to the theory. There is a critical moment in the show when the creator of defensive housing, Oscar Newman, describes how there has to be interaction between those living in the townhouses and their neighbors. The public housing dwellers need to encounter their middle-class neighbors in order to acquire “their neighbor’s morality.” This is followed by a scene where the new homeowners are taught how to accommodate their neighbor’s social mores, right down to how to take care of their garbage. Naturally, they protest, asking if their white neighbors are getting lectured about how to get along with them. It’s troubling, this emphasis on respectability politics. The State is willing to offer free housing, but only if the homeowners are willing to integrate themselves into the mainstream’s way of being.

At the same time, there’s a positivist view that this is a very successful program. Crime rates remained static, family incomes increased, and children did better in school. But if the mechanisms by which these changes occurred were necessarily morally coercive, what are we to make of this? Even without the explicit instruction for “acting right,” the goal of defensive housing was the inculcation of white, middle-class notions of property and responsibility. In fact, the class can be seen as less coercive, in that it made the instructions explicit, rather than through unseen conditioning. And yet, the show demonstrates how inadequate these lessons are in getting the white citizens to respect their new neighbors, from the constant stares to a woman who constantly lets her dogs do their business on the townhouse lawns.

“This American Life” recently produced a two part radio show titled “The Problem We All Live With,” also exploring and advocating for desegregation, this time emphasizing schools. The show demonstrated the consistent ability of desegregation to reduce the black/white achievement gap in education. However, as in “Show Me A Hero,” this improvement came from surrounding black students with white students who were academically successful. In other words, it required a shift towards mainstream normative behavior.

All of this is to say that our positive policy goals are often deeply linked to normative, behavioral shifts, and in fact are probably inseparable. Even fairly radical solutions like desegregation that physically move whole groups of people do not address the challenge of creating a cohesive community constructed from diverse moralities.

“Show Me A Hero” declines to resolve this tension, leaving us with the challenge of morality politics. The show looks at the process of local governance with a journalistic eye. In doing so, it counters both the wish-fulfillment of “The West Wing” and the lazy cynicism of “House of Cards,” instead offering a realistic portrayal of the motivations driving politicians and the human consequences of their decisions. The themes are timely, focusing on the racial segregation of urban America and its accompanying political maelstrom.  But, while it is a capital-I Important” show, it retains a sense of humor and a dedication to narrative pacing, even as it lacks the familiar cop-show structure “The Wire” so carefully used and subverted. It’s anchored by Emmy-worthy performances by Oscar Isaac, Catherine Keener, and LaTanya Richardson. And this is all topped off with some incredible Bruce Springsteen deep-cuts. In short, it’s required viewing for those who are interested in politics, for all its messes.

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