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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.

ML: a home like no other

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

If you take a look at any of the maps posted around campus, you can generally find where you want to go. The campus is pretty easy to follow – the lower half of campus is student life, the upper half is classes, and Parrish stands in the middle. With the Science Center at the top and the Field House at the bottom, Swarthmore is an easy-to-navigate campus where you can get anywhere in seven minutes.

Nevertheless, when you put a bunch of high-achieving minds together, there are always a few oddballs here and there. It’s never as simple as it seems, and these outliers have fashioned their own distinct reputations. For instance, I’m currently writing this article in Woolman, the northernmost dorm tucked in a residential area. Woolman has a feeling of home unlike any other dorm, partly because used to be an actual home. However, my home is a 30-minute leisurely-paced walk from Woolman, at the very opposite end of campus. Yes, Mary Lyons: the dorm that doesn’t even show up on the campus map. With a reputation as the dumping ground for low lottery numbers and a place for recluses, ML doesn’t quite have the sort of glamour that a dorm like Woolman has. It’s got a fantastic community, but it’s down side is … well, let’s just say ML would be the most popular dorm if it were on campus. But what makes it worth the 15 minutes you lose by having to get up early and lug all your stuff for the day to campus? Because it’s home.

Today, I’d like to share with you the ten things that make this place home for me.

Sophomore singles. There is very little on campus that is more stressful than trying to learn the housing system after your first year. I loved my roommate, but she had gotten a GA position and was moving to Wharton. I wasn’t very close to others of my own gender, and I had no idea who would be willing to spend a whole year with me. I was missing the privacy of my own space, too nervous to room with someone of a different gender, and had no desire to bumble my way through the lottery system. ML is one of the few places that has singles open to sophomores. I was lucky enough to block with my friends, and we have become closer since living farther away from campus.

In-dorm breakfast. What’s better than waking up to the smell of breakfast in the morning? How about being able to get breakfast without stepping outside? Well, every Saturday and Sunday, the breakfast room throws open its doors and serves anyone craving a homemade meal. Between crepes, omelettes, pancakes, and the continental spread of cereal and bagels, ML Breakfast truly has a decadent selection for everyone.

Private bathrooms. Most of ML is suite-style rooming, which means private bathrooms. Private bathrooms means fewer awkward interactions between people when going about your business. Besides having to negotiate a suite-mate contract and knocking on the door to prevent accidentally walking in on someone, it’s great to have your own space.

A different party scene. Random board games! Nerf wars! Screenings of random movies/anime/whatever we want to watch at the time! Whether it’s the constant game of pool that never seems to stop or the group of friends sharing stories on the couches until 3a.m., ML truly is an alternative sanctuary for anyone who enjoys a different kind of party.

Space, and not just from campus. Rivaling the size of most doubles, ML’s third floor singles are some of the most spacious singles on campus, rivaling the size of most doubles. Leaving ML is hard because it feels like I have my own apartment sometimes. Granted, I can’t complain about the dorm’s distance from campus either. I use this to put away school work and just focus on destressing after a long day. It’s also nice to be able to sleep in on Worthstock Weekend.

The walk. This is particularly relevant in the fall and spring. On that trip to campus, you get to see the trees in all their colors. In the spring, there’s a cherry blossom tree off of Harvard Avenue that makes everything smell wonderful. In the fall, you get to see the Crum turn different colors. Every so often, there’s a really heavy fog that covers the campus and looks stunning from the bottom of campus. Plus, it’s nice to have the extra bit of exercise.

The Shuttles. If you have never experienced a ride in the van with Mr. Robert, then you’re missing out. We have a rotating cast of characters, all wonderful people, who drive us in the morning and back at night. Each driver has loads of stories and their own music preferences. The shuttles are also super helpful when it’s cold outside.

Proximity to amenities. We may not be close to the Sci Center, but we are close to the Matchbox and Sharples. It’s been easier for me to make sure I have dinner and to start a habit of going to the gym. ML also feels closer to the Ville, which has its own perks.

Amazing RAs. There’s something about this dorm’s RAs. RAs in ML tend to get together for dorm-wide events, which are just amazing. We have a game of Assassins nearly every semester. I have a habit of crashing other halls’ MMKs within ML.

ML froshlings. Now admittedly, I’ve only seen it happen once, but ML has a long, long history of developing tight-knit communities. This seems especially true for our first years. There are a handful of first years in ML that seem to find each other and bond wonderfully, each with their own personality.

It’s hard to explain why ML is such a great place to live. There’s just something that makes the place its own unique experience. I wish I could tell you more, but it’s one of those places for which you have to be to understand. So consider this an open invitation to come check the place out, poke around, and make your own.

College to begin round of construction over summer

in Around Campus/News by

The college will start several new construction projects this summer to accommodate the growing student population. The projects include a new residence hall between PPR and the baseball fields, a new academic building to be called Whittier, new parking lots by Cunningham Field and the Barn, transforming the old bookstore into a computer science lab, constructing new art studios in Beardsley, and expanding the space at the 101 S. Chester road office, finishing the renovations of the ML bathrooms, and refurbishing Dana and Hallowell.

The new residence hall, currently known as New PPR, will be apartmentment style with each room having a living area, a kitchen, and five to six beds. The building will have 120 beds in total. Construction will begin after alumni weekend on June 6th and will finish in August of 2017. The building will include many outdoor and indoor flexible-use spaces, similar to the Danawell multipurpose room. These additions are in response to conversations had during the preparation of the campus master plan, in which students expressed a need for more student spaces.

“[One of the goals was] trying to build more connectivity and greater density of student population [by PPR],” said Dean of Students Liz Braun.

In addition to the student space, the college has also focused on sustainable building practices. These will include top-grade insulation,geothermal wells, and solar panels that will be able to provide up to 15 percent of the building’s power. The residence hall will be in accordance with the college’s new sustainability framework but will not be LEED certified. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a popular third-party verification for environmentally conscious building.

“The issue with the LEED certification is you’re filling out a lot of paperwork and you’re not getting the benefit out of it. We’d rather invest the time into doing what’s best. The other thing with the LEED standards is we actually feel the need to be stronger on areas like stormwater management than the LEED standards allow for so we’re kind of pushing that envelope” explained Greg Brown, Vice President for Finance and Administration.

The new academic building, Whittier, will also include geothermal wells and other environmental features. Construction will start behind the Lang Center after alumni weekend and be completed by the spring of 2017. The building will be 19 thousand square feet and is expected to cost $12 million. The building will be a temporary home for biology, engineering, and psychology as the BEP is being constructed. After the construction of the new BEP building, Whittier will become a new art building, in attempt to accommodate for the recent increase in studio art majors.

After Whittier is finished, the college will begin the process of tearing down Beardsley to start building BEP. This building, which will be bigger than Parrish, has a budget of $126 million and will take four years to open. The budget for environmental infrastructure alone is $12 million. After the main part of the building is done Hicks will be torn down, and the last part of the building will be finished.

Each major project coming up, the residence hall, BEP, and Whittier have different contractors. This helps with the labor demand for all the projects.

“It also helps keep the pricing competitive if we have them fighting with each other, so that’s a good thing,” said Brown.

Smaller projects for the summer include transforming the old bookstore area into a new computer science lab. As the CS department grows there has been a struggle to find space for the new lab, so for the next couple of years there will be a new lab in the basement of Tarble.

“We’re going to be adding a computer science space there until such time as we do the Clothier renovation but there was an urgent need to get that done and we still have a lot of work to do related to figuring out just what the clothier renovation is going to look like,” said Brown.

They will also finish re-doing the ML bathrooms and complete touch-ups on Dana and Hallowell to help the flow between the two buildings and the connector.

In addition to the college’s own construction projects, SEPTA will be building a new trestle in Crum Woods. The Media-Elwyn line will be closed past Swarthmore from approximately memorial day to labor day.

Looking forward, the college is hoping to continue to renovate student space creating more areas like Eldridge Commons in the Science Center.

“We know that there are renovations and things that we want to do in a number of student oriented spaces on campus so athletics, the library, clothier and Sharples all are in need of attention so as a first step we are going to be working on a visioning process that will work upon the work we did during the campus master plan,” said Braun.

The administration is calling this entire process a migration.They are trying to focus on the campus as a whole as opposed to building by building. As buildings are built and torn down they are attempting to limit the number of times departments have to move while allowing the space to grow.

New Diversity Peer Advisor program to begin in fall

in Around Campus/News by

Next year, eight Diversity Peer Advisors will be assigned to certain dorms on campus in a pilot program coordinated by Karina Beras and Heather Loring-Albright, the college’s residential community coordinators. Three DPAs will be assigned to Willets’ first-year floors, two to ML’s first-year floors, and three to Wharton’s mixed floors. Next year, DPAs will primarily focus on helping first-years, though the three DPAs placed in Wharton will help test their effectiveness in engaging with other class years. If all goes well, the program will expand to more dorms in subsequent years.

According to an email from Beras, the DPAs are to serve as resources for students who are marginalized on the basis of identity and social memberships and challenge the campus culture regarding power, privilege, and group membership. The DPAs are student leaders who educate and promote awareness of diversity and social justice by hosting hall events and evening office hours in the OSE during the week. If, for example, a first year low income student approached an RA because they felt frustrated by their friends’ insensitivity to issues of wealth and income, that RA would now have the opportunity to refer the student to a DPA according to Beras. This student would be specifically trained to tackle such issues more effectively and attentively than an RA could.

“I think RAs are super committed to helping the residents and they do all that they can do, but they are one person, and they are also students,” Beras said. “We recognize that at this point in time it cannot fall all on them, but we also [should not] do nothing about it.”

The goal is to have a greater specialization of hall resources, so that more attention can be given to each student’s individual concerns rather than having RAs and SAMs be the catch-all for any issues. This comes at a time when the Green Advisors program has also greatly expanded, although the timing is completely coincidental, according to Beras. She believes that the new DPA would not narrow the role of the RA but instead would fill a void in hall support that RAs have not been able to address up until now.

“I think there will be some overlap, but I think it will be good overlap. Some of the things that an RA would see or think about, a DPA might not see and vice versa,” Beras said. “There might be some things that DPAs given their training might be more susceptible to pick up than an RA. I think that is where this need for DPAs came from.”

The position was created after students reached out to Lili Rodriguez, associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement last September asking for improvements in dorm culture pertaining to issues of diversity and acceptance. Rodriguez subsequently tasked the RCCs with creating the new position.

The DPA program has been modeled after similar programs at other colleges, specifically University of Michigan’s and Dartmouth College’s. In designing the role of the DPA, Beras reached out to a colleague at the University of Michigan.

“One of her main suggesti ons was that you should make the role residentially based because otherwise how do you get a good pulse of what is happening [in the dorm]?” Beras said. Her colleague also stressed that the position should be paid. “[She said] if you don’t make it paid, then what are you saying about the students who are doing this really important work?”

The selection process for the DPA position began the week after spring break. Twenty-five applied for the position, and last week 10 were selected, eight of whom accepted the position. The DPAs have not been officially announced yet, but Beras plans to make this information public shortly. The OSE website will also be updated with more information on the position, in conjunction with the announcement of the RAs for next year.

Series of changes to affect residential life

in Around Campus/News by

As students begin looking for roommates and planning out their housing situations for the 2015-16 academic year, some have begun to raise concerns regarding changes in the housing process and in Swarthmore residential life at large.

The most public and transparent of these changes is the option for upperclassmen to opt to live in substance-free housing, which will be offered first as a hall in lower level Dana, and if enough interest is shown, as another hall in lower level Hallowell. According to the college website, the creation of substance-free housing was based on demonstrated student interest in a residential space where the possession or use of alcohol, controlled substances and tobacco products by residents or their guests is prohibited. Resident Assistant Lihu Ben-Ezri-Ravin ’16 said in an email that the creation of this hall depends on the amount of student interest, and said that if fewer than fourteen students indicate interest in a substance-free hall, it would prove difficult to follow through with an entire hall designated as substance-free.

An online poll administered by the Phoenix, however, indicates that the student interest in substance-free housing is less than the administration suspects. Out of 272 respondents, 39 percent believe that the addition of substance-free housing would improve residential life at the college. This percentage is likely to be larger than the actual number of students who would be interested in living on a substance-free hall, but the exact number of students intending to opt-in remains unclear. These results also contrast sharply with a poll run by the Office of Student Engagement, which said that over 78 percent of students suggested that substance-free housing was necessary in a recent residential experience survey.

The announcement of substance-free housing on campus also raised concerns that RAs would be forced to play a more involved role in enforcing college policy on residence halls, a shift that many at Swarthmore perceive to be detrimental to residential life. The logic in these concerns is that on substance-free halls, RAs would be held more responsible for ensuring public spaces retain truly free of substances than they currently are on regular residence halls. However, these concerns appear to be unsubstantiated.

“The RA will be the one facilitating this community, and likely will spend more time than other RAs establishing community standards and working with students for whom this may be a problem,” Ben-Ezri-Ravin wrote. He explained that enforcement will not involve disciplinary action from the administration, but rather dialogue between the student, the RA, and potentially other affected community members and Residential Community Coordinators.

“Students will be free to do whatever they want on campus, as long as their substance use does not interfere with the hall in anyway,” he wrote. “So, going to a party won’t be a problem. Coming back drunk and breaking things or vomiting on the floor will be.”

Student reactions to the addition of substance-free housing have been generally positive. Joaquin Delmar ’18 lauded the decision as a way for students who feel uncomfortable or medically affected by a particular substance to have better housing options, but questioned its necessity for students who would simply prefer not to live with substances on their hall.

“For the common student, I think that people should be exposed to the realities of a college campus and the world. People should grow and learn to make decisions for themselves; part of that is choosing to responsibly learn from a substance[d] world,” he said in an email.

Mindy Cheng ’18 also believes the new option was generally a good idea, even though it did not appeal to her personally.

“I like the idea of substance-free housing, but I like the freedom of non-substance-free housing. I wouldn’t live there but I think it’s good to offer that option to people,” she said.

Another, less visible, shift in residential life policies is the anticipated addition of first-year residential halls with the arrival of the class of 2019. The Office of Student Engagement confirmed the plans to create first-year housing, and explained in an email that the change stems from the need to provide an intentional residential experience that would ease first-years’ transition and help them navigate the college environment better.

These new first-year “wings” would be piloted in sections of both Willets and Mary Lyon residence halls and will contain roughly 20 first-year students each. However, the OSE made it clear that this would not create exclusively first-year dorms. They were quick to recognize mixed-year housing as a fundamental aspect of the Swarthmore experience. But they also explained that they needed to be responsive to the need for programming that builds skills related to diversity and inclusion, which they believe should also be a fundamental aspect of the Swarthmore experience. They explained that they need structures to allow that work to take place, implying these first-year “wings” would be a part of this process.

The OSE also pointed out that this change is a direct response to perceived student interests. In the same survey the OSE referenced above, 79 percent of the student population said they would like to see RAs and intentional programming dedicated specifically to first-years. However, this data also contrasts sharply with the Phoenix-administered poll, in which 75% percent of respondents believed that first-year housing would alter the first-year experience at Swarthmore for the worse. A discrepancy between the surveys may have been caused by a misunderstanding of the type of intentional programming the respondents of the OSE survey believed would be beneficial to residential life at Swarthmore.

The speculation over first-year housing has sparked a significant amount of backlash and mobilization on-campus, concentrated mostly amongst the Class of 2018. A group of members of the Class of 2018, led by Sam Wallach Hanson and Lewis Fitzgerald-Holland, have mobilized a campaign against the institution of first-year housing.

“There are a lot of people up in arms about this … [and] I feel like a lot of people feel left in the dark about this, and I think people want there to be some student input in the process like Swarthmore purportedly believes in,” Wallach Hanson said in an e-mail. On Monday evening, Wallach Hanson and other current freshmen met with Assistant Director of Residential Communities Isaiah Thomas in order to express their concerns with the proposed changes.

“We got very little definitively, [and] he gave us a huge run-around,” Wallach Hanson said. According to him, Thomas said in the meeting that the administration is currently considering five freshman halls: three in Willets and two in Mary Lyon, which would be about 25 percent of the freshman class.

“Basically, it was hugely unhelpful and he said he would talk to Rachel Head … but it sound[ed] like he’s not going to do anything about what we were saying,” Wallach Hanson said. After the meeting, Wallach Hanson and others launched an electronic petition and invited both current Swarthmore students and alumni to sign against the proposed first-year housing. The petition argues that immediately implementing such a large change and moving a fourth of the incoming first-year class into exclusive housing will act as a self-fulfilling prophecy, where students not on a first-year hall will feel like they are missing out on the chance to be with exclusively other freshmen. The petition also warns against the loss of essential inter-class relationships that form as a result of mixed-class housing as it currently exists at Swarthmore, and mentions frustrations with the current blocking options for the Class of 2018.  In slightly over 24 hours, the petition acquired 525 signatures from students of various classes and alumni, indicating a noticeable amount of opposition to the institution of first-year halls.

The OSE recognized the significant number of students and alumni opposed to the changes in first-year housing, and said in an e-mail that the open letter spells out a variety of concerns and that hearing student concerns is always their priority. They assured the Phoenix in an e-mail that these concerns will be taken into account when the housing changes are implemented, but that some of what is outlined is also exaggerating what are relatively minor changes to the residential experience. The OSE emphasized that it did ask for student feedback through a residential survey, has vetted opinions through focus groups, used RAs as sounding boards, and intends to speak to the Student Government Organization about the changes and hear their opinions as well.

Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development Lili Rodriguez also had strong opinions regarding the petition.

“One of the points I would challenge in the open letter, is the implication that this is a ‘tight-knit’ community, that everything is working as well as it could be. Some students may feel that way, but I know a large segment that do not, that want change and want to be a part of a community that thinks critically about diversity, social justice, and hope to build an even stronger community. These changes provide us a platform for that work,” she said in an e-mail.

It remains to be seen if the proposed changes to housing for the 2015-2016 academic year will be carried through in their entirety or change in response to student demand.

Against freshman-only housing

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

At the Phoenix, we believe it is imperative that first-year housing continue to be mixed by class year.

Mixed housing is an integral part of the Swarthmore experience. Living with older students allows first years to meet people they would otherwise never meet; people from other departments, clubs and teams. As a first year, having these older students available as a resource is critical to adjusting to the rigor of the school. As first years, upperclassmen are available on our halls to advise us on everything from the confusion of registration in the first week to making decisions about a course of study at the end of the year. But more importantly, they guide us through the transition away from home and high school and into an (almost) grown-up world. Because of mixed housing, upperclassmen serve as critical mentors to younger students as they adjust to life at the college.

From a more practical standpoint, expecting RAs to take responsibility for as many as 30 (?) first-years on a hall without help from any other upperclassman leaders is an unfair challenge. An RA in this position would serve a completely different role from other RAs, taking on substantially more responsibility because of the large number of first-years relying on them for support academically and socially. Similarly, not having other upperclassmen on the hall would fundamentally change the dynamic between the RA and the residents. With a universal 3-4 year age gap between them, the RA becomes a figure of authority rather than a resource. As tThe sole upperclassman on a hall, this person functions more like a camp counselor than a true RA, potentially undermining the valuable relationship that the current situation fosters.

The other potential change to the housing plan is to offer substance-free housing to students; a choice that we fully support. The lack of substance-free housing is inconsiderate to those students who choose not to drink. Their study schedules and sleep patterns may be disrupted by their peers who participate in drinking and other substance use on campus. Furthermore, students who have experienced traumatic incidents that involved drinking may have disruptive responses to sharing a living space with students who choose to drink. Students in these situations have been forced off-campus in the past. Offering substance-free housing would give people with a range of experiences and desired living conditions a space on campus.

 

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