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Residential Life Task Force
 

MISSION

The task force began its work with a consideration of the educational mission of residential life. We produced a working draft which we reconsidered as we moved on with the topics of the subcommittees. The Mission Subcommittee (Maureen Mahoney, dean of the college, chair; William Gipson, trustee; Soda M. Lo ’05; Victoria Murden McClure ’85, trustee; and Elizabeth Spelman, professor, Philosophy) held focus group discussions with first-year students, juniors, house presidents, and Talbot House. We also discussed the mission at two open forums, March 27 and April 9.

The subcommittee reached an early consensus that residential life plays an important role in supporting the educational mission of the college. As residential liberal education comes under increasing criticism for its historical elitism, relevance, and cost, it is important to reiterate the unique educational possibilities at a small residential college.

Like peer institutions, we devote substantial resources to make it possible for a wide range of students to attend Smith: over 60% of our student body receives need-based financial aid. We are also committed to racial, ethnic, religious and other kinds of diversity. The majority of today's college students, however, come from segregated high schools (Guarasci, 1997). For many, Smith will be the most diverse environment they have encountered in their lives. Referring to the responsibility of residential liberal arts colleges to teach "the arts of democracy," Richard Guarasci, in Democratic Education in an Age of Difference (1997), notes that:

In a world where more than three-quarters of the students representative of distinct races and ethnic groups are educated in virtually segregated high schools, the formal curriculum will not likely replace the overarching need for common living experiences as a means of allowing students to engage fully with voices and histories distinct from their own. If ever undergraduate education needed a pedagogical model that recombined learning and life inside and outside the classroom, it is at this juncture in college history. (p.13)

The details of life experience also vary dramatically among our students. Many from relatively privileged backgrounds have enjoyed a private bedroom at home as they grew up. However, family meals at dinner are often not the norm. The challenges of arriving at a diverse residential college, being assigned to a double room with a roommate, and living in a house that is student-governed represents a profound transition and an educational opportunity. Achieving respectful, lively, enjoyable interaction in the houses is perhaps more a challenge now than it has ever been.

Community engagement, however, must be balanced with the recognition that students also need to be private and reflective. Similarly, students must be able to engage with housemates in critical debate and conflict resolution, but also to experience their houses as locations of safety and comfort. More generally, students' experiences in their houses should reflect a variety of options, including ways of being alone and ways of being a member of the community, as well as sensitivity to the fact that college students need to become increasingly independent.

The Educational Mission of Residential Life of the College

These principles inform the analyses and recommendations that follow.

Mission

Housing Options

Theme Based Living

Structure of
Residence Life
Staffing

Dining Options

Conclusion

Appendices

 
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