College Considers Res Life Changes
Issue   |   Wed, 03/05/2014 - 00:28

Although this year’s room draw will bring few changes, bigger plans to rethink residential life at the College are underway, members of the Dean of Students Office and Strategic Planning Committees said this week.

In recent meetings, some members of the Strategic Planning Committee for the Integration of Curricular and Co-Curricular Learning have been discussing wide-reaching proposals to transform residential life in a way that aims to foster community within dorms. However, these discussions are still in the early stages, said Director of Residential Life Torin Moore. His office has not yet been involved in these conversations, and there will be only two slight changes to this year’s room draw.

The first change involves an adjustment to the required gender ratio in dorms. Next year, each building must have at least 40 percent male residents and 40 percent female residents.

“Last year, we upped the gender ratio from 35 percent to 45 percent of any one gender in a building, and so we’re going to bring that down to 40 percent this year because we had heard from students that it was a bit too much of a change,” Moore said.

He added that during last year’s room draw, some students were frustrated when they were shut out of a building due to gender ratios. Moore said that he hopes this year’s gender ratio will strike a better balance.

“The other thing that we’re doing on the students’ side is to encourage students who are forming room groups to do co-ed room groups,” Moore said. He explained that co-ed room groups will likely have more options in the room draw because they will be less likely to push a building’s gender ratio over the limit.

The second change to this year’s room draw will be the closing of Plaza and Waldorf Dormitories.

“Both buildings will be removed to make way for the construction of new residence halls,” Moore confirmed in an email.

As the College prepares to remove Plaza and Waldorf, administrators are working with Kyu Sung Woo Architects to determine what kind of dorms will be best for the space.

“We’re well into the planning phase for the project in which fundamental aspects of the dorms are defined,” Director of Design and Construction Tom Davies said in an email. “This phase will transition into the design phase later this semester, and design will continue until early 2015.”

“The architects have done a good job of reaching out to lots of student groups,” said Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey.

The Dorm Design Student Advisory group, made up of randomly selected students, has been formed to give input on the design of the new buildings. Davies said that the group has already offered ideas regarding social spaces and the mix of room types in dorms.

To encourage students from different class years to live together, the new dorms will contain a mix of singles, doubles and suites.

“The current planning also includes a fairly good-sized room for student activities such as performances, parties, movies, etc.,” Davies said.

Other potential features that have been discussed include a bike shop, kitchen space, a space for fitness class and a room that can accommodate both study groups and seminar classes. Additionally, Davies said the architects hope to design skinny buildings that will let in plenty of sunlight and highlight views from the south.

“Our architects also had a meeting with the students in the Green Amherst Project to discuss sustainability features, which will be emphasized,” Davies said.

Although many elements of the design are still in flux, Davies said it is “very likely that the final design will include four buildings surrounding a green, some of them connected by glassy lounge-bridges.”

For their part, members of the Strategic Planning Committee for the Integration of Curricular and Co-Curricular Learning are hoping that the new buildings “might foretell the future of residential life,” Coffey said.

Coffey added that she is particularly excited for the new social spaces being discussed for the new dorms.

“There will be a space that we hope will invite community in a way that we really lack on campus right now,” Coffey said.
In the Strategic Planning Process, the Community Subcommittee of the Committee for the Integration of Curricular and Co-Curricular Learning has also been discussing other ways to create a greater sense of community through residential life.

“We’re investigating a kind of neighborhood model,” said George Tepe ’14, President of the Association of Amherst Students and a member of the subcommittee. “What that means is clustering dorms by geographic location into neighborhoods, where that neighborhood could be a place where you have some sense of community.”

He suggested that neighborhoods of dorms might organize programming for themselves that could involve anything from group dinners at Lewis-Sebring to competitions between different neighborhoods.

“We’ve heard from students that they would appreciate this ability to eat together, to cook together, to do that within the residence halls or within a cluster of residences,” Coffey said. “Those neighborhoods might work really well together in a way that gives students more social options.”

The neighborhood concept is only one idea being discussed by the subcommittee. Other ideas to improve residential life include increasing faculty engagement in dorms through dorm talks or other events. Later in the year, the Committee for the Integration of Co-Curricular Learning will consider these and other ideas as it starts to form more concrete proposals.

For now though, nothing is final. Coffey said that the subcommittee is still in the process of thinking in more broad and ambitious terms about what kind of community it would like to see at the college.

“I would like to see us get to the point where there’s an identity that’s associated with where you live, and you feel a sense of pride in that identity,” Coffey said.

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