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Survey Nets Recommendations for Smith's Housing System

Shortly after President Carol Christ arrived at Smith last fall, she asked Maureen Mahoney, the dean of the college, to "explore whether [Smith has] 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." Working with a student, faculty, staff, trustee and alumna task force, Mahoney took a comprehensive look at long- and short-term options for housing and dining, as well as the possibility of assigning housing according to similar interests and the structure of supervision in the residences.

      View the report of the Residential Life Task Force >

The high response rate to a task force survey conducted in October 2002 that asked all students about preferences in dining and housing provided a significant amount of information that helped shape the direction of the project. The survey revealed that, while a majority of students responding prefer to keep dining and housing options as they are now, a substantial minority (30–40 percent) would like increased options.

According to its final report, "The need to retain positive features of the current system while adding choices that respond to the diversity of student preference continued to be a theme in the numerous focus groups and open campus discussion" conducted by the task force during spring 2003. "A ‘one-size fits all' model is clearly no longer adequate," says Mahoney.

Although Smith's house system has always had broad appeal and is one of the college's many strengths, it has a downside as well. It works against a broader feeling of community, Mahoney points out. "Students consistently regret that they did not have greater opportunity to meet others from outside their houses." Although the new Campus Center with its food court and various lounges and activities is expected to be a lively gathering place, encouraging activities across houses -- in programming, dining and the ability to move to a new location -- would help students to get to know a broader and more diverse range of peers. Making it easier for first-year students to move to a new residence might also help retain those few who are unhappy with their housing situations. Under the current system, such students have little choice but to try to fit in or simply feel lonely and isolated.

Based on these findings, the task force made eight general recommendations in its final report:
• Affirm that residential life plays an important role in the educational mission of the college
• Provide more options in housing and dining (including the possibility of theme-based housing and an exploration of the trade-offs necessary to balance traditional dining with other alternatives, including more flexibility in meal hours and menus)
• Increase faculty-student interaction in the houses
• Increase student interaction among the houses
• Facilitate students' ability to move between houses, both in living arrangements and for dining
• Build flexibility into the planning and implementation of residence and dining assignments
• Conduct periodic evaluation and assessment of housing and dining
• Ensure collegewide planning and consultation for future house renovations

During 2003–04, the college will conduct studies of several of these recommendations to assess their logistical and financial impact. -- AES

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