Open Housing to be Implemented Next Year

In the upcoming semester, Fall 2013, the College will instate a new policy: open housing. This new policy states that members of different sexes or identified genders can live in the same room. This differs from the current policy, which allows different-gendered individuals to live in the same suite, apartment, or townhouse, but not in the same room. The new policy will be open to all students.

SGA President, senior Andrew Reighart, said, “I think open housing will create a more accepting and flexible environment for current LGBTQ students and will improve our ability to attract LGBTQ students to apply and enroll in the College. But it is important to note this this policy is inclusive of everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. The open housing policy allows all students greater choice in their living arrangements. Almost all St. Mary’s students are legally adults; thus, we should both comport ourselves as such and be afforded the greater decision-making responsibilities that come with adulthood.”

College President Joe Urgo said, “I can’t think of a reason why not [to support the policy]. We’re giving additional choices to people.” From an administrative standpoint, he adds, “It’s simpler, it gives more options, and therefore makes it easier to put people where they want to be. Exclusively gender-specific housing can be complicated when you have more of one gender than the other, and you might have more empty rooms.”

He agreed with Reighart’s statement that decision-making is an important part of adulthood, but added that it is also important to education, saying, “I like that students are thinking about these kinds of things, deliberately thinking about it. What you eat, where you’re going to live. Don’t just take that passively, take an active role it in. That’s an important part an education, to take initiative and to not be passive about any part of your life. Taking an active role and wanting to determine what your choices are going to be, I think that’s really healthy. You’re the ones that live here; this is your community.”

In terms of what started the debate, Reighart said, “There was a formal push for open housing legislation when an SGA resolution was passed in 2010 by the 2009-2010 SGA Senate. That legislation was sponsored by former SGA Vice President Ken Benjes. The following school year, SGA President Marlena Weiss worked to move the issue forward, developing the language of the policy with Kelly Smolinsky. Once Marlena graduated, Clint Neill continued to work with Kelly on the policy language. Their work was continued and completed this year by the Open Housing Task Force.”

Reighart, who served on the Open Housing Task Force, strongly advocated that the policy included incoming and underclassmen students. “I am proud to say that this was taken into consideration and incorporated in the final policy language,” Reighart said. He added, “Once the policy was constructed, I sponsored the SGA resolution to back the Open Housing Policy and was overjoyed to have all but one Senator vote in support of it.”

When students were surveyed for opinions on open housing, most were in favor of it, though some acknowledged potential problems. Junior Alexia Tanski said, “I think the open housing policy is a really good idea for students who will be using it in order to stay in their comfort zone and live with someone they are really comfortable with. But there’s a 100 percent guarantee that couples are going to use this policy to live together, and if they break up, it could create more problems than are necessary.”

Come fall of 2013, the open housing policy will be put into effect throughout North Campus (Waring Commons, Lewis Quad, and the townhouses), and in Prince George (PG) Hall, first left. While upperclassmen will more likely be living on North Campus, and choosing where they want to live, incoming first-years are more likely to live in PG and must therefore apply to live in its “open” hall.

Residence Life Compensates Mold Evacuees for Lost Items

Most of the residents who were displaced last semester due to the mold in Caroline and Prince George’s (PG) Halls were able to easily recover all of the belongings they placed in storage. However, some residents have reported missing items that have not yet been found. In light of this situation, the Office of Residence Life has been able to compensate these students for their losses.

Usually, these items were lost after being submitted to storage rooms in Caroline and PG over winter break. Jenna Crutchfield, a first-year, was able to find her missing rugs with the help of the Residence Life staff.

“My RA had come by and wrote down our names [and items] on a ‘lost’ list that was on the second floor of PG. It had been about two weeks and I still had not heard anything,” said Crutchfield. “Finally, an RA told me that she heard they had some lost items in the basement of Caroline and to ask Res Life if they could help. I got so impatient that I went into the Residence Life office asking if I could get into the storage room in the Caroline basement. We made our way down and entered the room with boxes along the walls and some scattered on the floor. But as soon as I walked in, there they were, right there during the entire three-week process.”

While Crutchfield was glad to find her lost items, there is still one part of her ordeal that she does not understand. “My room number was written on the rugs that were wrapped together and taped,” she explained. “In big black bold print, 319 was written on them. There were only two dorms effected by the mold. That means there are only two rooms with the number 319. If you saw that, would you not check with [the residents of] those two rooms?”

Joanne Goldwater, the Director of Residence Life, explained that so many different people helped with simultaneous, multiple moves that it is impossible to place responsibility for the lost items, or the fact that some items were not returned efficiently, on one group or person. “We had a moving company hired by the Physical Plant, Physical Plant workers themselves, students, faculty, Residence Life staff, and Student Activities staff all helping with the move,” said Goldwater.

“The people who were inexperienced or confused about the way we were storing things may have misplaced certain boxes in Room X when they should have gone to Room A, or didn’t notice the markings on boxes. Any unclaimed items were brought to Caroline so there would be one space for people to look for missing items. If the residents do not find their items, they can bring the receipts for their replacement purchases to the Office of Residence Life and we will reimburse the item or we will order it for you. We can’t do this unless the student notifies us of his or her missing items,” said Goldwater

Lena Castro, a first-year, lost two boxes that contained important items like her printer and her desk lamp in the move from the Sea Voyager back into her dorm and took advantage of Residence Life’s offer.

“I returned from winter break to find two of the boxes I had submitted for storage out of an original four outside of my dorm room,” said Castro, “and I wasn’t too concerned at first, because I figured everybody else was still sorting out what was theirs and what wasn’t and that my belongings would eventually show up. I reported my missing items to my RA and I listed my missing boxes on a master list on the second floor of PG.”

“I spoke with residence life several times regarding my missing belongings,” Castro continued, “and they assured me that if they did not turn up by a specified date, then I would be reimbursed for my missing belongings. So I continued searching and checking in with Res Life and there was no sign of my missing belongings so I went ahead and purchased replacements and submitted my receipts of purchase to the Office of Residence Life.”

Goldwater said that this unprecedented event of moving the residents of two full dorms has helped Residence Life prepare for similar events, if they should ever happen.

“A majority of students have been successful with their adjustment back to their dorms, but we have definitely learned lessons and would probably do things differently if something like this happened again,” she explained. “We could have made the situation less frenzied, but I am amazed that it didn’t descend into complete chaos. We [the Residence Life staff] are so appreciative of the outpouring of assistance and support from students, faculty, and staff that helped us when we had this crisis. I think it speaks volumes about what our community is like.”

Resident Assistant Applications Now Available

Applications to apply to be a Resident Assistant (RA) for the 2012/2013 school year are now available. Applications are available online or from any RA interest meetings held by Assistant Director of Residence Life Derek Young. Applications are due to the Office of Residence Life by 4:00 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 3.

Becoming an RA is a big responsibility. It is a full-time job and puts a student in charge of a large group of fellow peers. In the Resident Assistant position description, it is stated that, “RAs should possess a willingness to commit time and energy to be effective peer advisers and to facilitate educational and social programming in the halls, suites, apartments and townhouses.” Even when not on duty on a weeknight or over the weekend, an RA is still required to “confront and effectively resolve individual and group conflicts” among their resident students.

“I decided to become an RA because I had seen the relationships between the RAs and residents and I was inspired by it,” said sophomore Alexia Tanski, a new RA in Prince George Hall this semester. “I met many RAs my first year here and I wanted to help make a positive impact on others and I wanted to be able to interact with my peers and meet more people, and becoming an RA seemed to be the most efficient way to do so.”

In the position description, it is stated that an RA has seven different jobs: student; community organizer; role model, listener, peer advisor, and mediator; educator through programming, community standards agent; referral and resource person; and administrator. An RA is first a student; academics are always a priority. But then, they are a coordinator for activities for their residents and a model and enforcer of college rules and regulations.

According to senior Andy VanDeusen, Residence Hall Coordinator (RHC) of Caroline Hall, the qualities that Residence Life looks for in an RA applicant are “leadership, compassion and understanding, quick thinking that leads to effective results, creativity, respect, and openness (not necessarily in that order).”

Even though RAs have a lot of responsibilities, the job can still be fun.

“I have gotten the opportunity to meet a bunch of intelligent, motivated, and classy people (other RAs),” said VanDeusen. He also noted, “I got to stay here for the summer for free.”

“Being an RA has allowed me to put things into new perspectives,” continued Tanski, “I feel as though I am able to reach out to more people now and even though I haven’t been an RA for very long, I am very happy and humbled by being allowed this opportunity.”

“Students should consider becoming RAs because the lessons they will learn as an RA will help them throughout their lives and careers,” said VanDeusen. “Plus, if they get it, they’ll never have to worry about housing selection again.” RAs get to live in single rooms while RHCs get their own apartments.

“Besides the obvious single room at a double room rate and being paid $1,850 to $1,900 per semester, RAs will gain lots of experience in responding to crisis situations, resolving conflicts, community building, and listening skills,” said Young. “These transferable skills are also great resume builders and will benefit our students in their professional careers after they move on from St. Mary’s.”

On the RA Application, students are asked to demonstrate leadership experience, employment experience, and letters of recommendation. One letter must be from an RA, and one from a current St. Mary’s faculty or staff member (outside the Office of Residence Life). Part of the application process involves a submission of an object of “personal expression,” which can be anything that fits into a 8.5 by 11 inch envelope. There is also an interview by Residence Life professional staff and RHCs, at which time the object of personal expression can be explained.

“We are looking for passionate students for the RA position who care about the St. Mary’s community and who are interested in working with a wide variety of students,” Young said. “The Residence Hall Coordinators for the 2012/2013 academic year are excited about meeting potential new staff members and finding the candidates to make strong staff teams.”

Letter to the Editor: Displaced Students Lack Compensation

I am writing as a student who has not been directly affected by the mold issues, but who has a number of friends who have had to deal with these problems. I would like to take the time to respond to the recent e-mail regarding the mold remediation housing credits. I feel that the solutions offered by this e-mail do not merely fail to adequately compensate these students for the difficulties they have experienced; the solutions that the Office of Residence Life has proposed are laughable and border on being downright dishonest.

The e-mail notes that the students who were displaced by the mold were promised – and the word “promised” is a direct quote – 15 housing credits in compensation for the inconvenience caused. However, the e-mail then goes on to explain how the original solution proposed is untenable given the large number of students who have been affected. To remediate this, Residence Life has decided to offer the 15 housing credits to ONLY those students in CD 1L and PG 1R who experienced extra inconvenience. The remaining students, in order to be justly compensated, will be entered into drawings for a pair of Senior Gala tickets (seniors only), two townhouses (rising juniors and rising seniors only), and four WC suites (everyone else). If I am interpreting the e-mail correctly, those students who aren’t lucky enough to win something in the drawing will receive NO further compensation.

I think that this solution is wrong. These students have had to deal with an extremely high level of inconvenience and stress associated with the mold. I can attest to this just from my interactions with friends who lived in the affected dorms. They were also promised compensation by the school. For the school to then take away any compensation for the majority of students represents gross dishonesty and ineptitude in dealing with this. Perhaps it is to be expected given the school’s history in dealing with mold-related issues.

In the e-mail, the reasons for this decision are outlined, and I wish to address them individually. First of all, it is noted that “with so many people getting the credits, it would eliminate the benefit being offered.” This is true, but I don’t see why this bars the possibility of alternate compensation. Secondly, “the remaining 425+ students in CH, DD, and QA would be unfairly disadvantaged because they were not assigned to a building with mold.” This should not be an issue here. If the school would like to speak of students being “unfairly disadvantaged,” perhaps they should consult with those students in PG and CD who had to deal with moving out of their housing into hotels, only to move again within a week, all while trying to cope with the stress of a full course load and, for many, of adjusting to being away at school for the first time. Thirdly, “the logistics of trying to coordinate 350 students getting additional credits would be unusually difficult to administer.” Perhaps the school should have thought of this before making promises that it couldn’t keep; this reason is nothing more than a lame cop-out.

If the school feels that the 15 housing credits is no longer a viable solution, I see no reason why alternate compensation cannot be developed. Merely entering students into a raffle is in no way sufficient compensation for the difficulties these students have had to put up with, and I for one feel as though the school should not be let off the hook for making false promises and then failing to adequately compensate students.

In the Resident Handbook there is a section entitled “Resident Rights and Responsibilities.”Listed among these rights are: the right to sleep and relax in your room; read and study in your room, free of interference; have free access to your room or townhouse; have a clean, safe environment in which to live. It seems to me that the school the school has failed to provide all of the above state rights.

In the terms of the Housing Contract, the college agrees to provide “a revocable license to live in the College’s housing subject to the terms and conditions of this contract.” The students living in PG and CD have not in any way violated the terms of their contract, although it would seem that the school has failed to uphold its end. I believe that these students should receive financial compensation totaling all or part of their housing payment for the semester. The school has failed on many fronts in its handling of the mold issue, but I hope that it will not be allowed to fail at fairly compensating all of the students who have been affected by the mold problem.

-Matthew Anthony

Home Away From Home: A Message from ORL

Did you know…?

The purpose of the Office of Residence Life is to support the academic mission of the College by facilitating safe, supportive, and civil living-and-learning communities that are conducive to sleeping, studying, and socializing (in that order!). Residence Life staff serve and educate residents and mentor students to become leaders and good citizens. (ORL Mission Statement)

We hope the 1586 residents living in our residences throughout campus are enjoying their accommodations and roommates. We know, however, that a few of the students may not be thrilled with their roommate(s). We encourage all roommates to complete a Roommate Agreement Form (available from your RA or RHC) and to maintain open communication. Remember, roommates do not have to be best friends; you have to share the space and treat each other with dignity and respect.

If the roommate relationship is heading toward disaster, we urge the roommates to seek the support and mediation skills of the RAs and RHCs (all of whom underwent mediation training in August). Mediation must be completed first before a room change/roommate swap is approved. If irreconcilable differences are involved and it is clear the mediation will have no effect, staff members will work with the student that is willing to move. We maintain a vacancy list that contains the location of the vacancy, the remaining roommate(s), and phone number. It is up to the students to find someone compatible from the list. Room/roommate changes are permitted starting Sept. 12.

Do you have questions? We have answers! Please send your questions to jagoldwater@smcm.edu. This is the first of a series of articles for The Point News.

Gender Neutral Housing Pilot Program Planned To Take Effect Next Spring

According to the President of the Student Government Associate (SGA), senior Marlena Weiss, the option of gender neutral housing will be a reality at the College.

However, not until the room selection process during the spring semester of 2012 will students be able to choose for the following fall semester.

The campaign for the housing option has been a large part of Weiss’s platform during her time in the SGA.

Specifically, the new plan will allow students to choose to room with another student of the opposite gender.

This is one step further than the current situation, in which students have the option of sharing a suite with mixed genders, but still must room with a person of the same gender.

As of yet, Weiss has heard only positive feedback about the proposal. “I have never talked to anyone who’s against it,” she said, including students who do not currently reside in on-campus housing.

Currently, the only concerns she has heard deal with circumstances for first year students.

Though the choice will be primarily restricted to North Campus, the option would be open for first years, according to Weiss, assuming they take the necessary steps in contacting Residence Life, though that seems unlikely given that most students enter knowing very few other students or have access to North Campus.

Additonally, Weiss said there will be no circumstance under which a student would be forced into a gender neutral housing situation, including study abroad cases.

For example, if a female and male live together in the fall and the female travels abroad in the spring, unless the male student otherwise informs Residence Life, another male student would be assigned as his roommate for the spring semester.

Weiss used winter break to finish putting together the proposal, schedule a meeting with the President’s Council, which she said will be the final step, and talk with all departments to “double-check [that] all our bases are covered.”

With the time until the program’s inception next spring, Residence Life should be able to work out most of the kinks, Weiss said.

However, when the option is actually available, Weiss believes that is when any functional issues with the system will arise and be worked out.

Part of the reason the program won’t start for over a year is because Weiss believes it is important to have time for Residence Life staff and the students to prepare for and make the gender neutral transition.

“I hope that students interested in participating in gender neutral housing will start communicating with [Residence Life] as soon as the school year starts,” she said.

Room Selection Schedule Modified

Because of the delay in hard tuition numbers, the Office of Residence Life (ORL) has moved back room selecting and housing contract deadlines into early March.

The choice to move back deadlines for housing was made shortly after the second quarterly meetings of the Board of Trustees, when Trustees decided to hold off on setting next year’s tuition until February. Assistant Director of Residence Life Kelly Smolinsky said, “We don’t want students to sign a contract without knowing the conditions…I don’t think that would be ethical.”

Instead of being due Feb. 25, as stated in the To the Point student handbook, housing contracts and deposits will be due the next Friday, March 4. Applications for apartments, single rooms, townhouses, and suites have similarly been moved back.

As a consequence of these changes, and the fact that selection of doubles, triples, and quads have been moved back after advising day, Residence Life has also decided to get rid of the normal room draw process in favor of an application system very similar to what is currently used for suites and townhouses.

Everyone will now apply any time between the opening of applications and March 31, and assignment will be based on amount of credits. This means that friends who want to room together can now apply at the same time for the room they want, and their assignment will be based on the average of their credits.

According to Smolinsky, this has a major advantage over the room draw system, through which it was possible that someone else would take a potential friend’s spot in the time between each applicant’s room draw.

Smolinsky said, “For me, it’s more important that if you have someone you get along with that you can room together. Now I can guarantee you that yes, you will be able to live together.” Smolinsky also said that Residence Life would see how the process went in the coming fall and possibly consider making the change permanent.

Residence Life is also going to be rolling out a new web site for this year’s room selection, which will contain information such as updated room plans and standard sizes of things like beds and desks; Smolinsky hopes having this information more readily available to students will lead to more informed and satisfactory choices.

Smolinsky also said that Residence Life would be re-evaluating the distribution of students in Calvert Hall, known for its unusual room sizes. The due date applications for single rooms have also been moved to match those of north campus apartments.