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Residential Life Task Force
 

REPORT OF THE TASK FORCE / May, 2003

Introduction

President Carol Christ appointed a Residential Life Task Force in September 2002 to consider ways of improving residential life and dining at the college. She asked the committee to “explore whether we have the optimal range of housing and dining options for students and to consider the relationship of Smith’s residential system to the educational mission of the college.” The committee included students, faculty, staff and trustees (see Appendix 1 for complete list of committee members). Chaired by dean of the college Maureen Mahoney, the group met throughout the academic year 2002-03. The mandate for the group (see Appendix 2) included questions about housing options available to students (singles, doubles, suites, apartments, etc.), dining options, theme-based living and the structure of supervision in the residences. We were asked to consider short-term and long-term planning. Four subcommittees addressed each of these issues. A fifth subcommittee guided discussion on the educational mission of residential life.

The work of the committee was informed by a student survey conducted in October, 2002 (see Appendix 3). All students at Smith were asked about preferences in dining and housing (see Results, Appendix 4). The overall response rate of 68.5% was very high. The survey revealed that while the majority of students (60 to 70%) prefer to keep dining and housing options as they are now, a significant minority (30 to 40%) desire increased options. The need to retain positive features of the current system while adding choice that responds to the diversity of student preference continued to be a theme in the numerous focus groups and open campus discussions held during the spring of 2003.

The campus community was included in the committee's work not only through the student survey, but also by means of focus groups that were held during the spring of 2003. In all, over 500 students were invited individually to discuss the work of the task force and emerging recommendations with committee members. Although turnout for focus groups was uneven, small groups afforded good opportunities to discuss issues in depth. Two open forums were also held on March 27 and April 9. Residence and Dining Services staff (RADS) as well as students attended these meetings. A "residential life task force" website made the results of the student survey available to all.

Most generally, it is clear that some changes in the residence and dining options are required to meet the needs of current and future students. There is consistent, strong evidence that the traditional mode (houses with dining, and students from all four class years) suits many, but not all of our students. Nor does it suit all students at every stage in their four years at Smith. As our student body continues to become more diverse, we expect the demand for choice in housing and dining will increase. A “one size fits all” is no longer adequate.

Additional options in living and dining would also further the educational goals of Smith. Our current house system reinforces a house isolationism and works against a broader sense of community. Students consistently regret that they did not have greater opportunity to meet students from other houses (Cycles Survey, Appendix 5). Ease of interaction across houses—in programming, dining, and moving to a new location—would encourage our students to get to know a broader and more diverse range of peers.

This ease of movement would also help address the retention of first year students at Smith. When first years leave this college, they often report it is because of an unwelcoming, "politically correct" atmosphere in the houses. Under the current system, such students have little choice but to try to fit in or simply feel lonely and isolated—moving to another house, or even eating at another dining room, is relatively difficult.

The task force was mindful throughout the year of changes to campus culture that the opening of the Campus Center will bring. The Campus Center is designed to complement rather than replace current dining arrangements. Its café will be open all day and the many lounge spaces will provide much-needed public social space for eating, studying, meeting friends, and holding meetings. Changes to the housing and dining system should be made in light of real student usage of the Campus Center.

Finally, the committee urges that flexibility be built into new strategies that might be implemented. The need for continual assessment and re-evaluation is paramount so that tradition will always be balanced with appropriate change. Ideas that are new today should not become frozen in place for the distant future.

General Recommendations:

  1. Affirm that residential life plays an important role in the educational mission of the college.
  2. Provide more options in housing and dining.
  3. Increase faculty-student interaction in the houses.
  4. Increase student interaction among the houses.
  5. Facilitate students' ability to move between houses, both in living arrangements and for dining.
  6. Build flexibility into the planning and implementation of residence and dining.
  7. Conduct periodic evaluation and assessment of housing and dining.
  8. Ensure deliberate college-wide planning and consultation for future house renovations.
  9. To achieve these goals, we recommend the following actions in 2003-04:

  10. Conduct feasibility studies in 2003/2004 to assess the logistical and financial impact of these recommendations.
  11. Proceed with providing Smith OneCard access for every house and dining room as soon as possible.

Mission

Housing Options

Theme Based Living

Structure of
Residence Life
Staffing

Dining Options

Conclusion

Appendices

 
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