Is Res Life undermining its own goals?
by Lauren Harvey, guest writer; illustration by Austin Turner, staff artist
Colorado College is a residential college, meaning that out of our (anticipated) four years of schooling here, we will spend three of them living “on campus.” We will apply for housing and pay the college rather than the landlord for our lodging assignments. For most of us, this will amount to the following: a year or two spent in the “big” dorms (Loomis, Slocum, or Mathias); a year in a language house, Jackson, McGregor, or some other mid-sized building; a year spent in the apartments; and, finally, a year living off-campus like real adults on Weber or Uintah. The reasoning behind a residential college environment is that living in close proximity to one another cultivates community, conversation, and a more cohesive student body.
According to the Residential Life website, the residential buildings at CC provide “a consistent, steady base amidst a frequently variable and often hectic lifestyle dictated by the Block Plan,” and “the community development and building of lasting friendships made possible by campus residential living are crucial aspects of the CC experience.” It seems, however, that the well-intended mission statement touted by Res Life has become severely disconnected from the reality of the housing situation.
My experience thus far has indicated that, rather than being a community-creating atmosphere, the shoulder-to-shoulder living in the dorms has instead fostered an environment of anonymity, which has allowed for unaccountability and, ultimately, irresponsibility among a large population of the student body. I was one of the lucky hamsters with whom Res Life experimented in the “Mathias freshmen integration” project last year when they began housing freshmen in Mathias for the first time. As a two-year veteran of Mathias, I have spent a fair amount of time experiencing the “community” that the largest dorm breeds. If nothing else, the community is, and has been, “consistent”—consistently crazy, consistently fun, consistently full of parties and, as a result, consistently trashed.
Because students have relatively little say in their living accommodations and because they are keenly aware of the temporariness of these spaces, they take little pride in them, generally treating them with disrespect and irreverence. This manifests itself in the way students take advantage of the custodial and maintenance staff, frequently assuming that someone else will clean up the toppled trashcan, the spaghetti-crusted stove, the throw-up, the wine-stain, the over-flowing toilet, or whatever the mess may be. After all, that’s what we pay them for, right? I have a hard time believing that two years of utter irresponsibility made possible by a constant clean-up crew is one of the “crucial aspects of the CC experience,” but it seems to be a prevalent assumption among students.
Perhaps I would be less critical of on-campus housing if the cost of the spaces we inhabit was on par with their value. But that isn’t the case. We pay quite a bit for the advertised community atmosphere: the average on-campus housing runs your parents a little less than three grand per semester, not including the cost of the required meal-plan that most of the kitchen-barren residencies necessitate. If broken down into monthly payments, that puts your one-bedroom, no-kitchen, no-bathroom, 15×15 ft. apartment at $648 a month. And you’re sharing it with a roommate. Needless to say, the cost of living off-campus would be remarkably less expensive. Alas, CC’s housing monopoly and required residency does not allow this option.
The economics of housing leaves the employees over at Res Life in an awkward position. They at once have the task of building and promoting livable, community-enriching spaces—which I truly believe they aim for and are constantly working towards—while simultaneously needing to siphon the greatest amount of cash out of the student body as possible. They accomplish this through over-inflated rent costs in a self-created monopoly on the housing market.
If it is truly community that Res Life hopes to create, I am all for it, but at this point, it seems that the housing situation has only stunted the growth and maturity of many. The underlying idea of community stems from simple notions of respect—respect for oneself, for one’s environment, and for the other inhabitants of that environment. Contrived communities, in which the inhabitants do not choose or care about their living space, will ultimately breed contrived respect and contrived relationships. This is not the mission statement for which CC aims, and it certainly isn’t the mission statement for which I signed up.