Schill, Bingel talk about squatter’s rights, safety, gender-neutral housing RSA housing forum informs students

On Wednesday, November 30, RPI’s Resident Student Association hosted the annual Residence Life Fall Housing Forum. The forum—led by RSA President Joseph Baca ’13—provided Dean of Residence Life Todd Schill and Associate Dean Amanda Bingel with the opportunity to inform students of the various plans currently being considered by Res Life in an attempt to improve on-campus residential life for all students. Vice President of Administration Claude Rounds also made an appearance.

Schill began by presenting an overview of the Residence Life Performance Plan. This plan is made up of seven “strategic initiatives.” The first, often referred to by Res Life staff as the “Das Plan,” involves converting portions of certain residence halls—Cary, Bray, and Crockett halls, for example—into what Schill described as “super lounges.” These spaces would, in theory, allow for larger, informal congregations of students. Schill mentioned that the lounges could also be used for guest speakers or even classes. The “Das Plan” also includes an idea to add fourth floors to each of the “Freshman Five.” This would, he says, both concentrate the freshman students and provide more beds for sophomores on campus.

The Performance Plan also includes the “Villards Plan,” the goal of which is to “combine academic disciplines with the arts.” The third initiative is to create a Housing and Dining Services Master Plan. Much of this is administrative in nature, but Schill states students would be impacted by the automated housing selection and assignment process.

The other four initiatives involve reducing the RA-to-student ratio, developing a “Greek Village” for the many fraternities and sororities at Rensselaer, improving the Res Life central office, and potentially setting up a student center for off-campus students. However, many of these initiatives, as well as those mentioned previously, are what Schill referred to as “cost items,” meaning that the cost is a significant factor in the implementation of the initiatives, and, as a result, may require more time to implement each.

Schill then went on to discuss “universal card access.” Having visited several campuses, Schill has proposed the idea that students have access to all residence halls. However, he acknowledges that there are many issues to consider before putting such a concept into place, the most significant being safety. To determine if there is enough interest in universal access, a question about it will be included on the residence satisfaction survey. With this student input, Res Life will then determine if they will move to the next phase of the program and “try out a pilot program,” mentioned Rounds. Both Schill and Bingel mentioned that this access would only be available to resident students as an incentive to live on campus.

Bingel then gave a very brief rundown of the 2012 housing lottery process. She decided not to spend much time on the issue, as every RPI student received an e-mail with the information she went over. The topic that seemed to interest students the most was Current Room Retention—known as CR2—referred to by many students as “squatter’s rights.”

These rights were taken away several years ago. Schill stated that the reason for this was that, around that time, his office went through several major changes due to the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative, the Greek Commons Agreement, and other updates to housing policy. As a result, many of the statistics which Res Life bases its decisions on, such as the “size of first-year classes, retention of rising sophomores, type of housing available to different classes, and cost” became temporarily unstable. Res Life decided to put CR2 on hold until their data became more stable and reliable.

At last year’s Housing Forum, a number of students requested that CR2 be brought back. Schill mentioned that, after a bit of deliberation, Res Life was “more than happy to accommodate [the] request.” As such, current juniors and seniors have regained the ability to remain in their current rooms in Blitman Commons, Colonie Apartments, North Hall, E-Complex, Rensselaer Apartment Housing Project Apartments, and Polytechnic Apartments.

There are some students from the 2012 and 2013 classes, though, who resent the sudden reinstatement of CR2, feeling they did not receive the same housing benefits as other students since they have been unable to retain their rooms until now. Some members of the Class of 2012, in particular, feel as though they received the worst of it, citing the fact that current juniors still have a year to take full advantage of CR2. Schill addressed this issue, saying, “Higher education environments are always changing if they are going to be successful in our competitive world.” He claims that Res Life was able to assign “the majority of students to their preferences,” although he admits that it “required patience.”

Following the presentation was a question and answer period. The vast majority of questions and concerns dealt primarily with either universal card access or universally-accessible facilities. In general, students made suggestions to make the system more viable. Ideas to limit the access to different residence commons were accepted well, while the addition of security cameras was received less positively. Rounds claimed that, several years ago, students had dismissed the idea of adding cameras due to privacy issues. Schill added that such cameras are very expensive.

In regard to housing, certain students raised concerns about the lack of accessibility for minority groups such as handicapped and transgender students. Rounds mentioned that handicapped accessibility was an important issue and that there have been discussions about potentially adding elevators to residence halls. In terms of gender-neutral housing, he remarked that “there is no standard metric to go by,” which, he says, makes it much more difficult to cater to the needs of affected students.

During this period, Director of Auxiliary, Parking, and Transportation Services Alexandre da Silva made an announcement about a service which will be available to all resident students following Winter Break. Named “Laundry Alert,” this system will, among other things, provide students with a means to determine whether residence hall washing machines are currently in use. Details will be available after the break.