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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Residential College

<rleton will move to 100% On-campus housing. This is my educated prediction. Not my desire.

At least, it wasn’t my desire last year when I was asked to attend a small meeting of peer leaders. We were RAs, SWAs, reps from CSA, Program Assistants from the Student Activities Office.  We served as a focus group for a student housing consultant out of Colorado College.

He spoke to us in Leighton 304, asking us about our college living situations – what we liked about it, what we wanted to change, etc. Most of us griped about the restrictions of the meal plans and how there was less off-campus housing this year. I mean, really, how was Carleton supposed to prepare us for the real world if only 100 of us were allowed to deal with landlords, sign leases, pay for electric bills, and practice all of that other real life grown-up stuff? It’s just another way Carleton (via Bon Appetit) coddles us into adulthood.

Mr. Student Housing Consultant from Colorado College sat down on a table top at the front of the room, removed his glasses, and looked at us somberly. “I’m going to let you in on on the President’s plans.” He paused here for effect. “The long-term goal for Carleton is one hundred percent on-campus housing. One hundred percent.”
I’m pretty sure someone said, “They can’t do that.” If not, it was a voice inside my head. We objected, restating all of the aforementioned points. I can’t even recall if anything was resolved, but I remember leaving the meeting furious and indignant. How could they do that to us? After all we were giving to this college, how could they take that freedom away?

At some point, I remember talking to a Hall Director who is no longer working at Carleton. I asked said Hall Director what he thought of Stevie P’s 100% on-campus housing plan. This was the response:

“It is the President’s plan, because it’s the Trustees’ plan. Whatever the Trustees want, it’s what the President wants.” He chuckled, “But basically, Carleton is already a mostly residential campus. And there are benefits to that. But every year we lose 100 times, say $5000, to Northfield Option. That’s half a million dollars every year. And it adds up. Don’t worry – it won’t happen immediately. Not in your time here at Carleton – maybe not even in four years. It will be very gradual. But eventually, yes, it will happen. The College needs to respond to the financial situation.”

Let me pause here and give my related asides. This summer, I spent a good chunk of my time in Williamstown, MA, living on Williams’ campus. Williams, like Carleton, is a small elite liberal arts college. I was in awe, if not in love. Williams had many nice, pristine facilities, statues and the like – it was clear that they had a pretty sizable endowment.
Now, I’m not saying that Carleton needs to be ostentatious, and that money will solve all of our problems. But I often find myself in the same competitive quarrel with my friend Ben who attended (and ran track) for St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. St. Thomas disgustingly wins many conference titles in many sports, and lots of other schools in the MIAC enjoy grumbling about how the Tommies should move to Division II.

Anyways, whenever I tote our devotion to learning and our high academic rigor, his response is always, “Oh yeah? Is that doing your alums any good? We have so many donations from successful graduates that we’re able to build a new building every year.”

Again, I don’t want us to become St. Thomas. Or Williams. I’m very proud of our selectivity, our collaborative environment, our liberal arts education, and, yes, ironically, our humility. I love that, generally, Carls don’t do it for the money, but they do it because they love it.

And, compared to other schools, we do have a sizable endowment. Our graduates, though fewer in numbers than St. Thomas, do have success in life. And they love Carleton, so they give back. So why, suddenly, after resisting this change, do I suddenly find myself agreeing with this rumor of 100% on-campus housing?

One of my great loves of Carleton is the community. I have learned more about life, learning, and myself outside of the classroom than in it; I often say that the best conversations happen when you have a million and one page paper to write for the next day, but you find yourself sitting on those red couches in Sayles, debating about something that’s NOT happening in any of your classes at the moment.

My favorite groups on campus are my team s– the cross country and track teams. Now, before you judge me, just imagine what it would be like to live with your freshman floor (assuming you had a really awesome one) all four years.
That’s what it’s like being on a sports team that’s in season all year. You spend at least three hours a day together, working together through the  adversity of workouts, and even more time on the weekends attending meets. It’s all of that time together, plus that common love of running. It makes us want to spend more time together eating dinner and socializing at parties.

At Carleton, we have a common love of learning. Of academia. Of quirky things. Of passion. Take your pick. And what will 100% on-campus housing do? It’s like the workouts, the long runs, and the meets. It will bring us even closer together. There is something magical about it, and it’s unlike other schools.

At the unveiling of Poskanzer’s Strategic Plan last Tuesday, I found myself nodding along to many of his proposed steps for Carleton, especially his call for strengthening the socioeconomic diversity of our student body. I personally know people who chose schools like St. Olaf because they couldn’t afford Carleton – they were neither the portion of people who could pay full tuition, nor did they fall in the lower margins. They were in between.

Speaking as someone who does fall in the lower margin, who receives a significant amount of need-based financial aid, I would like to see a bit more diversity than just the kids who are penny-pinchers and the kids who don’t have to worry.

I want to see more of the middle class represented at Carleton. I want Carleton’s education to be accessible to anyone who wants to attend, just as it was accessible for me.

The reason I’m writing all of this is because I heard a lot of anxiety surrounding Poskanzer’s simple mention of Carleton as a  “residential campus” in the preamble for his Strategic Plan.

To be honest, I don’t think the reduction of Northfield Option is a top priority. The words “Northfield Option” don’t even appear in the the Strategic Plan. But my intuition tells me that it will happen, as the Hall Director said, gradually.
The Strategic Plan does have one tiny section that calls for more townhouses to foster “more independent living and meal plan options.” If  that extra half-million dollars a year will go towards need-based financial aid, then I’m all for it. Especially if it makes our community stronger.

You can disagree with me if you like. You can say that you’re not convinced – that you still want your Northfield Option. But, as a senior who has seen plenty of change here at Carleton –  if they want it to happen, it will happen. This is one of those things that has been in the works for a long while, which is why there were so many questions about it.
But in reality, I think there are so many other things that need their attention before they even consider it. In the event that it does happen (in the far future), here’s my proposition –  at least hold them to the expansion of meal plans. Allow more students to go off board. I’m fine with a national food service corporation taking some cuts rather than the institution of learning that I love.

I’m off-board this year, and I’m going to be saving a satisfying amount of money.  I’m finally learning how to cook. As for the other stuff – leases, landlords, bills – I have the rest of  my life to deal with that, as do you. 
I’ve seen a lot of change here in my four years. Some of it I agree with; some of it I don’t. But the way I see it – I’m graduating in less than a year. And those of you reading this are hopefully graduating not long after. I just don’t anticipate this as being a detriment to Carleton. As an elite institution of academic learning, we have bigger concerns that need to be addressed. 

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