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Students question new rule

Kelly Meehan and Katie Kohler | Friday, March 2, 2007

Last week’s announcement that Saint Mary’s would institute a six-semester residency requirement for all students beginning with the Class of 2011 has left the campus community questioning the College’s decision.

Vice President of Student Affairs Karen Johnson told the Board of Governance on Feb. 20 the decision was made after several meetings of the President’s cabinet – an advisory council of eight high-ranking members of the administration, including College President Carol Ann Mooney and Acting Vice President Jill Vihtelic.

Johnson told The Observer Thursday the decision “is a clarification of the residency requirement and [is] consistent with the mission statement of the College.”

While according to the Saint Mary’s Web site, 81 percent of the College’s 1,500 students currently live on campus, Johnson said the new requirement would further advance the “residential” objectives outlined in the College’s mission statement, which says “Saint Mary’s College is a Catholic, residential, women’s college in the liberal arts tradition.”

Johnson also pointed “to a large body of national research that shows that students living on campus are more engaged in academic life.”

This theory is supported by the National Survey of Student Engagement, Johnson said, and not rooted in her opinions.

And while she stressed the decision will not affect current students, many members of the Saint Mary’s community immediately worried about the regulation’s effects on the College’s future.

Junior Castle Point resident Becca Rosswurm said living off campus allowed her to separate school from residence life.

“School feels like a job,” Rosswurm said. “Going home makes you feel like you relax.”

She chose to live off campus as a junior because she thought separating her personal life from her academic life would help her organize her time and workload more effectively.

“It takes a lot of freedom,” she said. “Living off campus is a better lifestyle for some people.”

Rosswurm said she thinks living off campus brings new experiences and said she believes prospective students should have the choice to live off campus whenever they choose – a loss of personal liberty she believes will deter incoming students form choosing Saint Mary’s before a state school.

“I think a lot of prospectives will choose the state school because they can live off campus with friends,” she said.

Johnson said she did not believe this decision would have any adverse effects on College enrollment, and said the admissions staff reviewed and supports the requirement.

The Admissions office did not return Observer phone calls Thursday.

As Saint Mary’s begins to prepare for the new requirement, the department of Residence Life will ready to handle the demands of a potential increase in the campus population.

Director of Residence Life Michelle Russell said her office “won’t need to make any changes in room selection because of the new residency requirement,” but said it may need to open the previously closed floors in McCandless and Regina Halls to accommodate additional residents.

Russell also said the residency requirement will not alter the clause in the Student Handbook that stipulates, “If students are found to be a significant disruption to the community or disciplinary problem they may be dismissed from the residence halls.”

The only foreseeable impact of the new regulation, Russell said, is an increased number of students living in residence halls – fostering a “larger community and an opportunity for students to get to know more people and build stronger relationships by living together for three years.”

Junior Sarah D’Angelo decided to move off because she teaches at a local high school for her secondary education minor, and residing closer to the school fit her needs and her schedule more appropriately.

“I think it’s just more convenient and it’s nice to have my own time,” she said. “It also feels more like home.”

She does not support the change and said she would have been upset if the decision had tied her to the campus for three years against her will.

“I personally don’t agree with it,” D’Angelo said. “Students should have a choice of what they want to do. Some people just don’t like the dorms and choose to live off campus to get a break from that.”

Prior to this decision, there weren’t any residency requirements at Saint Mary’s.

The new residency program will make exceptions for transfer, abroad and local students. Those who permanently reside within a 30-mile radius and choose to live at home will not be subjected to the requirements.