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
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
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
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
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,
significant minority (30 to 40%) desire increased options. The need to
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
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
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 students attended these meetings. A "residential life task force" website
made the results of the student survey available to all.
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.
does it suit all students at every stage in their four years at Smith.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
- Affirm that residential
life plays an important role in the educational mission of the
more options in housing and dining.
- Increase faculty-student interaction in
- Increase student interaction among the houses.
students' ability to move between houses, both in living arrangements
and for dining.
- Build flexibility into the planning and implementation
of residence and dining.
- Conduct periodic evaluation
and assessment of housing and dining.
- Ensure deliberate college-wide planning
and consultation for future house renovations.
To achieve these goals, we recommend
the following actions in 2003-04:
- Conduct feasibility
studies in 2003/2004 to assess the logistical and financial impact
of these recommendations.
- Proceed with providing Smith OneCard access for
every house and dining room as soon as possible.