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Director of Residence Life Discusses New Policies, New Goals and Housing

Student+apartments+at+Spring+Hill+College.
Student apartments at Spring Hill College.

The director of Residence Life, Joy Morris, wants to change campus culture through new policies and the relationship dynamic of resident advisers and students, she stated in a press conference on the morning of Aug. 31.

In a small computer room of Burke Library, Morris delivered opening remarks and answered questions on the current affairs of Residence Life.

New Staff

In the first few minutes of her opening remarks, Morris discussed her one-year anniversary as the director of Residence Life and her completely new staff, which includes Holly Bannon, John Hohenstein, Zarana Adial and Joan Wilson. “It’s been a trying past year. I walked into a lot of broken processes, a broken staff, everything broken. So, we’ve worked really hard to restructure, re-staff and for the first time, as of about 3½ weeks ago, we have a full staff on board,” Morris said.

RAs and Students

Morris also mentioned resident advisers’ new training curriculum: how to make programs more social and educational and how to properly approach residents.

Morris explained, “During training this summer, we worked very hard to change the mentality…It’s almost like [RAs were taught to sit and wait] to find someone doing something wrong. We want to change that. You’re looking to see if people are safe, do people need help, do people need resources. So, just shift that culture, I think, is one of our biggest goals.”

In regards to that goal, current Student Government Association President Ellie Seiter stated, “So far this year, I’ve actually heard good reports, especially regarding RAs. I’ve heard better relationships with that and then with all the new policies.”

One could even say that SGA, to a degree, was a catalyst for these changes. Seiter said, “We were always bringing across [students’ concerns] like ‘Look, these are points of complaints. Here are issues. Here are what students are saying.’ There’s a whole survey that went out and there are records of what people were saying about it.”

New Policies

When asked about any new policies, Morris stated the Fairways alcohol policy and the guest policy. The Fairways alcohol policy, formulated by Mike Freyaldenhoven and a group of students, states that students 21 and over may have alcohol in the breezeways, but it cannot be in glass containers.

Joy stated the reasoning behind it: “Why are we forcing students inside of a room to drink. What happens if someone has overconsumed, they’re passed out and they’re in corner and nobody sees them? If you’re outdoors…we see someone who needs medical attention and are able to provide help.”

The guest policy states that residents no longer have to check-in guests and that they may have overnight guests of the opposite sex. The reason for this change, Morris discussed, is because there was no way of monitoring or enforcing the previous rule: “We didn’t use it. It was in writing that you had to check a guest in. [But] maybe twice last year, we had somebody come in and say, ‘Hey, we want to check a guest in’.”

Portier Place and the Fairways Apartments

Morris discussed some of Residence Life’s accomplishments, which include new workout equipment in Portier Place and renovations in Andrews and Rubin of the Fairways Apartments. Andrews and Rubin got new laminate floors, grey-colored walls and one accent wall (Langan did not get renovations since it got some a couple of years ago); however, not all Fairways residents are happy since some of the renovated apartments are missing their kitchen islands. Residents expected them to be there since they are included in the Fairways floor plans on BadgerWeb. Morris and Seiter explained, though, that they had to be removed to renovate the floors and it is not in the budget to put them back. 

Seiter went on to discuss students’ reactions: “I’ve gotten complaints and praise, in the sense that the complaints regard the fact that they weren’t told coming in that they won’t have the dining tables, which is very legitimate…On the flipside, I’ve also been hearing it’s good because in Langan, apparently, they didn’t have them in all the rooms, people were saying it’s nicer, they didn’t really use them anyway and they had just redone the floors, walls and put so much money into revamping the Fairways.”

Morris said that the tight budget is in part due to one Fairways apartment receiving over $13,000 in damages last year. Upon examining the room and board rates for 2017-2018, one can see that the semester rate for Andrews and Rubin increased by 4.7 percent and the semester rate for Langan increased by 4.3 percent.

Morris added that the 94 credit hours provision for the Fairways remains and that there are plans to add a conduct history provision.

On-Campus Living

Further, Morris discussed the residency requirement policy which states that students must live on campus and purchase a meal plan except if they live with a parent or guardian in the local Mobile area, are over 23 years old, are married, have health reasons, have financial hardships, or have “other individual circumstances” (page 52 of the 2016-2017 Student Handbook). The rationale behind it, Morris stated, is to increase enrollment and student engagement.

While the data on the correlation between on-campus living and student engagement is unclear, a 2014 survey by the National Survey of Student Engagement found the following: “First-year students living on campus spent, on average, around two more hours per week than their off campus counterparts in each type of activity: preparing for class, participating in co-curricular activities, and relaxing and socializing…On campus students, more than their peers who lived off campus, said their institution substantially emphasized providing support to succeed academically, providing opportunities to be involved socially, providing support for their overall well-being, and attending campus events and activities.”

Housing Selection

Morris added that Residence Simplicity will no longer be used for housing selection. A new system will officially replace it in October. Since last year, Residence Life has been utilizing Google sheets and a manual system (which included students attending housing selection times in LeBlanc) for housing selection. This system, in part, was the brainchild of a housing committee formed by Residence Life. It included Seiter, who then was the secretary of campus affairs. This year’s secretary of campus affairs is Adam Schmitt, he will be dealing directly with Residence Life.

Seiter spoke on students’ responses to last year’s housing selection process: “There were issues towards the end of the process; but I will say, overall, the responses that we got from this year were, I’d say, ten times better than the year before.”

Freshmen: Largest Commuter Class

Morris mentioned the recent addition of a commuter RA, Gabby Brumfield, who serves all commuters in Portier to “help with the retention efforts of commuter students” since the class of 2021 is “the largest incoming commuter class,” Morris stated.

Upon examining the 2016-2017 Common Data Set and Fall 2016 Undergraduate Admissions data, this means that the number of fall 2017 freshmen commuters is well above the 66 (17 percent of 392) fall 2016 freshmen commuters. Morris gave an estimate of 125 fall 2017 freshmen commuters. Due to this, a first floor wing in Walsh Hall and a third floor wing in Toolen Hall have been closed.

Check-In and Move-In

Morris discussed the stability of check-in and move-in this year and how “so far since Aug. 1, [she has] talked to three parents [compared to]…talking to three parents a day [as she did when she first joined Residence Life].”

Junior Tiffany Yochum, who lives in New Hall, discussed her own move-in experience: “Really, I was impressed because the people who had this room last year…their living habits were disgusting. I was honestly expecting them not to do anything about it, but they really did a great job. I didn’t see any mold. It smells fine. It’s clean. So, move-in was way better than I expected it was going to be.”

Laundry Rooms

Lastly, Morris mentioned the possible expansion of the New Hall laundry room, the possible addition of machines in Walsh, and the possible move towards an in-house laundry service. As of right now, New Hall has seven washers and seven dryers for a building that can house 222 students. And Walsh, which can house 166 students, has 11 washers and 11 dryers (four of which are currently not working). Meaning, there is one washer and dryer for every 31 students in New Hall and one washer and dryer for every 15 students in Walsh.

Yochum added on the subject of the New Hall laundry room: “I think it’s kind of shameful, honestly, that this early on in the year so many of the washers have buttons falling off…Either they get more and keep them in substandard conditions or keep the ones they have in good condition—you can’t have both.”

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