On Saturday, January 11th, Dean Livingston and Tanya Hartwig, the associate director for the Office of Residential Life, delivered a housing announcement to 272 students who attended the Peer Leader Winter Conference.
According to one slide of the presentation, the announcement aimed to further define the housing recommendations of the 2012 Strategic Plan and 2014 Facilities Master Plan. Recommendations include “new independent living environments along Union Street and by the Recreation Center.”
Key project objectives include a “plan for repair or replacement of the older independent living houses, identifying a location for the Student Health and Counseling Center (SHAC) and options to improve the use and quality of traditional living units without expanding their overall capacity,” according to the presentation.
During the presentation, Hartwig and Livingston referenced maps that focused on three main development areas with estimations of the number of beds they plan to add to each—34 to 54 beds by the Recreation Center, 88 beds by the townhouses, and 49 to 68 beds by Faculty Club.
“The estimates are just a way of saying, at face value, this is what we think,” said Andrea Robinson, director of Residential Life.
In response to a student question following the presentation, Dean Livingston said they were unsure exactly what the new buildings would look like, but they are not planning new residence halls.
Robinson confirmed, “we have no intention of building a large dorm – we’re not going to be doing Mussers or Watsons. Our focus is much more on smaller, thematic communities.”
“Our houses need more attention,” Robinson added.
During the Carls Talk Back Movement last February, students expressed concerns about interest house conditions in the areas targeted by this housing plan. Included in their demands and subsequent conversations with administrators was the installation of washers and dryers in two interest houses—Freedom House and Casa del Sol.
“I’m really excited about it,” Resident Assistant Alexis Tolbert ’21 said of the housing announcement. “I think a lot of houses are in need of some upgrades to make it so that it’s a more even living standard across the board.”
“A lot of interest houses happen to be in the funkiest buildings,” added another Resident Assistant. In addition to complaints about the lack of washers and dryers in interest houses, students and administrators also expressed concern about unsafe basements, mold and lack of disability access.
Other Peer Leaders were surprised by the announcement. “It felt incredibly random,” said Mica Bahn ’20, a Peer Leader with the Center for Civic and Community Engagement and a resident of Farm House. “I wasn’t totally sure if it would all be torn down and rebuilt, or whether some of them just needed certain repairs,” she said.
“Farm House has a very distinct culture that is rooted in the past, and a history, and a lot of built up stories over time, so I feel like that’s why this kind of thing is very concerning to us,” Bahn added.
Another Peer Leader, Caleb Rosen ’20, recalled feeling removed from the announcement. “She said this is a plan going forward long-term, and as a senior, long-term at Carleton doesn’t apply to me,” said Rosen.
Robinson explained that the announcement was vague because “we’re not there, it simply doesn’t exist yet.”
The housing plan discussed with Peer Leaders is in “the final stages of refinement and submission to the Board of Trustees for approval,” said Associate Dean of the College Gretchen Hofmeister.
According to the Carleton website, The Board of Trustees is responsible for “policy making and sound resource management of the College” and also determines “the general, educational and financial policies of the College.”
In these initial stages, the Office of Residential Life will continue to collect informal student feedback via responses to presentations like the one delivered to the Peer Leaders.
“We’ve got the one open session that we did over break, we’ve got the Peer Leader group, and we’re going to CSA on Monday. I think there’s one more session next week, then we’ve got a couple of other groups,” said Robinson.
As to why Peer Leaders were the first to hear, Hofmeister said, “Dean Livingston wanted to get student feedback on the Housing plan, and the Peer Leader meeting was a good opportunity to reach a significant student audience that knows a lot about housing on campus.”
This housing announcement came on the heels of a January 2 email from the Office of Residential Life that informed Residential Peer Leaders that Residential Assistants will replace the role of House Managers in Fall 2020. Both will bring changes to how interest houses will function in the coming years.
While the replacement of House Managers is set to begin in the fall, Saturday’s housing announcement gave no specific start date for changes.
“They were very ambiguous about the timeline,” said Tolbert. “I think here it’s really easy to tell the student body something and then five years later when everyone is gone, no one really knows what was supposed to be happening, and then they aren’t really held accountable for the promises they make,” she added.
“Right now, it’s all conceptual and we don’t know what will make the most sense once we get going,” Robinson said.