Inside the Housing Open Forum
by Taylor Derrisaw | published Oct. 16th, 2015
Living in a hotel during your first year of college can be quite a drag.
One of the most exciting things about college is being able to experience life on your own, with your own space and your own responsibilities. Unfortunately, for many students left in overflow housing this experience may not be ensured for them. This past year first-year enrollment was higher than predicted, forcing students to live in housing atypical of the average college freshmen.
The housing open forum on October 6 was held in order to dissipate rumors pertaining to the housing selection process and make students aware of the decisions that needed to be made during the process. RIT's administration tried to explain the process of housing selection, while some students and Student Government (SG) members expressed their disdain for the issue.
After introductions, the administration began to explain what their department’s role is and how they work together to make sure admissions and housing processes run smoothly.
“We recruit a class, usually about three years in advance…building a pool and making sure we have the right students,” said Dr. Daniel Shelley, director of Undergraduate Admissions. Shelley said that the process boils down to making sure three main qualities are met: quantity, quality and composition. He also wanted to make clear that if any facet was neglected, the ripple effects across the university could be disastrous; as Shelley mentioned, “We’ve become heavily reliant on tuition revenue.”
Admissions aimed to enroll 100 more students than necessary. This practice is very common, as some students either don't show up or leave relatively quickly. Instead, however, the university enrolled 137 more students than their prediction.
After Shelley explained the admission process, Carla DiLella, director of Housing Operations, explained how the Housing Department made room for all of the new students. “We have all sorts of stats that predict things for all of this,” DiLella said. Housing then uses the data to create models for the upcoming year. DiLella mentioned that the actual data did not exactly fall into the range they wanted and that “behavior was slightly different … This adds to some of the challenges we had.”
After DiLella spoke, Dawn Soufleris, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, explained that administration was examining long term and short term options for how to house students. “Once we knew where the numbers were, that’s when [we] would start to make a plan, what we’re going to do for the short term and the long term for the students.”
Dave Bagley, senior director for the Center for Residence Life, built upon Soufleris’ comments. After administration knew there was a spike in admissions, Bagley, Ward, Soufleris and a few others met in June to discuss how they were going to accommodate students. One of the proposed suggestions was to move students into overflow housing. This action called for the transition from double rooms into triples and lounges into residential rooms. For students, this is where a lot of the frustration originates. Soufleris reminded the forum that a lot of thought was put into this decision and that every student’s well-being was taken into consideration. “The intention was good — to have an enriched and appropriate experience for our first-year students,” Soufleris said.
After the appropriate administration members explained their respective sides to the story, Austin Sierra, director of Student Relations for SG, opened up the floor to the students.
One student asked about future plans for housing in case there is an overflow much like this year. Kurt Ingerick, executive director of Student Auxiliary Services (SAS), took to the floor to explain a new plan that is currently in the works. Ingerick explained there is a new project in development that will call for an additional building with 150 bed spaces for students. The new building will be located near Riverknoll, but it will not replace the aging complex. Although the plan is still in its infancy and therefore won’t be finished until 2017, Ingerick believes it will alleviate some of the qualms that come with overflow housing.
Part of what makes the process so long is the cost. “With any project you take on you have to make sure you have funding for, so you’re not making an impact on tuition rates and pay,” Ingerick said.
Nick Giordano, president of SG, expressed the need for each department to have a process in place for when these issues happen. One of the problems he cited was that often projects or ideas went unfinished, as many of the students who facilitated those ideas graduated and then left the university.
“We would just love to see the process continued,” Giordano said, stressing that transiency needed to continue. Giordano didn’t hesitate to call the removal of lounges from Special Interest Housing “unethical,” but understood the decisions administration had to make.
Bryanne McDonough, secretary for House of General Science (HoGS), was very adamant in showing her frustration with administration’s decision to remove the lounge from HoGS and convert it into a new student room. This decision affected multiple dormitories on campus, but the lounge in HOGS had been paid for with student dues. McDonough echoed Giordano’s call for transiency. “If you put a whole bunch of new students on these floors and kept these lounges converted, they’re not going to know, and they’re not going to be able to fight it.”
Dr. Howard Ward, associate vice president of SAS, responded: “We did this intentionally because there was a need of additional housing on campus.” After he reiterated what many administrators had already mentioned, Ward said frankly “I’m going to be honest with you — those permanent lounges are not going to come back. But we’re going to make sure we’re not in this situation later.”
After students had asked their questions, the forum explored various opportunities for solutions. “We need to hear ideas from what you guys think,” Giordano said.
McDonough expressed students’ desire to have study spaces, which she says are lacking on residential side, and suggested that spaces be opened to replace the lounges that were lost and to allow students to study in a comfortable space. Kory Samuels, executive director of Dining Services, pitched in, saying that Dining Services might be able to create 24-hour locations that could help students study.
One student acknowledged that there needs to be more communication between students and administrators. This would allow them to have more knowledge on issues such as this, as well as help determine the best course of action. Senior Director of Campus Life Karey Pine mentioned that students should seek more involvement with SG. “Students shouldn’t underestimate the influence Student Government has,” she said.
Although the open forum did not find a clear-cut solution to the housing issue, students and administration walked away from the forum knowing each side’s arguments, and hopefully a solution can be drawn out from the topics they discussed.