On Feb. 9, the Department of Community Living released a poll gauging student opinion on their new room selection proposals. Both proposals seek to solve problems stemming from the current housing lottery system, but at the same time fail to take into account the changes that will be taking place on campus between 2017 and the latter part of 2018.
The announcement of the Castle’s impending shuttering and demolition did not just pull on the heartstrings of students and alumni; it created a logistical problem that will take effect the day the doors close.
Because of the demolition and planned construction of a new residence hall, the university will lose another 120 beds for three semesters. This problem is compounded by the fact that students living in the Castle during Fall 2016 will need to move out by Spring 2017. Brandeis, a school that already struggled with a high student-to-housing space ratio, will therefore be faced with a 120 bed shortage for at least three semesters, beginning in the spring of 2017, which will push more upperclassmen off campus.
The first proposal that the Department of Community Living released on Feb. 5 offers a new system in which any sophomore, junior or senior can choose to live anywhere on campus (save the required first-year quads, Massell and North). Seniors could choose to live in East and Rosenthal while Sophomores can choose to live in Ridgewood and Ziv, for example. Seniors would also get exclusive housing in Ridgewood C and in the Mods. This plan would essentially make all upperclassmen quads “moist,” as many juniors and seniors can drink, but underage students will still not be able to consume alcohol in those quads.
Although this plan looks interesting at face value, it will push the process in favor of rising sophomores. It is important to remember that sophomores will still be guaranteed housing under these proposals, as it is equally important to remember that a 120-bed sophomore quad will be shuttered in two semesters. Seniors and especially juniors would find significant hardship finding on-campus housing regardless of this plan, because at the end of the day, there’s just simply less space available.
The second proposal, which attempts to reward those that have consistently stayed on campus with better housing numbers than those who have not, attempts to tweak the existing system: a band-aid to a problem of capacity without putting forth a real solution.
These proposals seem more to be shake-ups of the current system than they are vectors for any positive change in the selection process. The university needs to do more than alter the pecking order of the current system; it needs to consider making major changes.
There exists a major problem that drives many students off campus: high housing costs plus mandatory meal plans. These together can at times exceed the costs of living off campus, thus many students choose to do so. Mandatory meal plans, which will take full effect for the entire student body next semester, seem to be driving students away; their unpopularity makes them unfavorable investments for the university. Terminating mandatory status for those living in residence halls with kitchens may stand to bring student money back into the housing system.
Ending mandatory meal plans is not enough to correct the problems plaguing student retention in the housing system. The school has had trouble with capacity since before the Castle’s impending closure announcement, and the new residence hall that will stand where much of the Castle is today will not hold many more students than the latter does today. It is time for the university to invest in more alternative housing (like 567 South Street and Charles River) nearby.
Through offering on-campus housing in an off-campus setting with subsidized on-campus prices, both the school and its students can benefit. Brandeis can earn money from those students technically living “off-campus” while students can enjoy the benefits of lower-priced housing and independence.
This kind of investment can seriously alleviate the capacity problem that plagues the university. Simple shake-ups to the housing lottery program will not make DCL’s housing problems go away; it will take real change—such as mandatory meal plan cutbacks and off-campus investments—to make a real difference.