Proposal for Residential Neighborhoods on Campus
Issue   |   Wed, 02/04/2015 - 00:27

The Office of Student Affairs plans to initiate discussions with the college community this semester about the possibility of creating residential “neighborhoods” among campus dormitories.

The neighborhood plan was first proposed during the strategic planning process last spring. Vasquez cited the success of similar programs at other institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, as inspirations for proposed changes.

“We want to work on our residential experience on campus,” he said. “We know we have a really, really strong first-year experience, but we wouldn’t say we have a very strong residential experience across the campus.”

He said that the college would hope to build a greater sense of community on campus with the new neighborhoods. The neighborhood system would seek to group different residence halls together in order to foster a sense of community in these neighborhood groups.

Vasquez used Charles Pratt Dormitory as an example.

“We would align Chuck Pratt with a particular neighborhood, so any students who lived in Chuck Pratt their first year would automatically move into x neighborhood [after the first year],” Vasquez said. “And that neighborhood might be constituted of five or six different buildings, and you would live in that neighborhood for the next three years.”

Vasquez said that within a community of as many as 500 students, students can forge stronger relationships with one another.
He also said that neighborhoods, if implemented, could help resolve some issues related to social life at Amherst.

“It attends to some of the things our students talk about regarding loneliness or friendships; it breaks up some of the division on campus now with the socials,” he said. Neighborhoods would attempt to avoid creating exclusive social groups, as they would not be based on social hierarchy or an exclusive selection process.

Neighborhoods would develop their specific own cultures by hosting events. Each neighborhood would have a set of residential counselors and a neighborhood council. The neighborhoods would each be allocated a budget, and the council would decide what kinds of events to put on. Through this process, the college hopes to build a sense of community around each neighborhood’s unique culture.

However, Vasquez said, “No details have been set in stone, because the administration will first host open talks with students to see if students would want this.”

Vasquez anticipated that there could even be discussion about possibly getting rid of the first-year quad structure. Two possible ways of assigning first-years to neighborhoods are being considered. Students can be assigned by first-year dorm or by an application or questionnaire process.

Another potential issue would be how to protect theme houses’ unique characters while integrating them into the neighborhood system. According to Vasquez, one possible way to address this issue would be to allow people to join neighborhoods based on the theme house they want to be a part of. Alternatively, the college could allow a one-time neighborhood switch. This would accommodate those who want to be in a theme house while otherwise preserving the close-knit permanence of a neighborhood.

Ultimately, Vasquez said nothing will be decided until conversations take place with the students. However, he added, these conversations may need to take place rather quickly. Vasquez said that if the neighborhood concept is to be instituted, it would be ideal for the system to be implemented before the new dorms open their doors to residents in the fall of 2016.