The Housing Debacle
by Gino Fanelli | published Sep. 9th, 2015
The good news and bright horizons at RIT have reached a peak in the early hours of the 2015-2016 fall semester.
With a ranking of number seven on US News and World Report's best northern universities list and a ranking of number three on Mic's list of schools to produce the next Steve Jobs, RIT's acclaim as a university seems to only be growing year after year. Due to this positive publicity, a rapidly increasing number of parents are sending their students here. This year, enrollment peaked at an all-time high of 18,500 students. It's understandable that the administration would take pride in the way RIT is growing and is seen by the outside world, but with great growth comes a great need for change.
It's unfortunate that this change, embodied in the recent displacement of students due to the overwhelming incoming freshmen class, can be slow moving.
"Yesterday, Housing came in without any warning and they started picking up our couches and tables and taking them out," second year Industrial and Systems Engineering student and president of the House of General Science Cassy Smithies said. "They told us we needed to go to a meeting, but everything was already happening. We went and they basically told us that our lounge on our floor was going to be transferred to a dorm."
Described as a temporary fix, converting lounges into dorms has become a practice affecting 21 student lounges across campus, in addition to lounges in the Honors and study abroad dorms.
"We're told that it's temporary," Smithies said. "But Riverknoll was supposed to be temporary, Brown Hall was supposed to be temporary, and as you can see, those are not temporary."
Student Government President Nick Giordano, who has worked as a vocal figure in the housing conversation, provided his input on this housing fix.
"Housing actually did a great job of making sure everyone had a place to live on campus," Giordano said. "There were 70 or so students living at the Radisson, and when their time was up Housing found a way for them to all have a place to go. I think the larger problem is, through Student Government, we've always been told there's no need for new dorms on campus, there's no need for new housing. But now we're taking away the lounges from dorms across campus, as well as specialty housing. When you take away these lounges, you create an inherent discrepancy between the services a person on one floor is getting in comparison to another. So two students are going to be paying the same price for different experiences."
This comes at a time where a record-breaking 2,940 freshmen and 600 transfer students have enrolled for the 2015-2016 academic year. Meanwhile, capacity of on-campus dorms hovers at a total of 7,062 available spaces, factoring in students who continue to live on campus after freshmen year, a dangerous ground is reached where the campus itself sits on a tenuous foundation of just barely, or not, reaching its housing requirements. With a consistently growing trend of enrollment, the question is begged of what the administration is doing, if anything, to accommodate.
"What is the future of the housing on this campus?" Giordano asked. "What is happening with Riverknoll? We've been told for three years that Riverknoll was going to be torn down, and every year it just kind of stalls back another year. These are things students need to know, to the point that we have no housing left on campus. There's no shuttles to off-campus housing, but students might have to live there if they don't get their request in on time."
What becomes clear is a fundamental lack of communication blended with a policy that has more or less hit a point of stagnation. These temporary solutions currently have no permanent resolution in the works, and Giordano speculated as to how how the university hopes these issues are inevitably solved.
"I think what they're relying on is the fact that it's rigorous here at RIT, and that some students will leave part way through the year," Giordano said. "Historically, enough have quit for there to be enough space, or move out of the residence halls to an apartment off-campus."
Another factor Giordano believes plays into these conversations is the future of academic institutions. With online courses becoming a standard on college campuses, 70% of all universities in the United States offered online courses in 2013. Thus, there may be a permeating belief that traditional campus life is a fleeting thing. This, of course, does not reflect the current reality.
"I get the feeling that a lot of people think that online learning is going to replace the need to come to campus, and traditional college living," Giordano said. "I think when administrators look at this, they plan for 25 or 30 years in the future, where students are planning for the four years they're going to be here. That's where the major difference is between students and administrators."
In short, a disconnect between the students and the faculty, of the needs of those living on campus with the visions of those in charge of Housing Operations, can cause for uncomfortable situations. Smithies sees the administration as being out of touch with the needs of the students.
"[Housing] keeps asking us, 'Oh, what can we do to make this up to you?' when all we really want is our study lounge back," Smithies said. "What is really nice is that all of the other Student Housing presidents have been standing behind us, that we've been acting as a community, with each president saying 'We're going to go to housing,' or 'We're going to go to Destler,' because we paid our dues to use that room and if they're going to turn it into a dorm, we deserve to be paid back. It's nice that we're acting as a community.