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Student senate calls on University to revise new housing policies

| Tuesday, April 30, 2019

In a resolution passed Monday evening, the student senate urged University administrators to revise the new Residential Life policies. The new policies, set to take effect in fall of 2021, would ban off-campus students from participating in certain residence hall community events and programs.

The senate will hold a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the new changes with Erin Hoffmann Harding — the vice president for Student Affairs — and Heather Rakoczy Russell — the associate vice president for Residential Life.

Although administrators had hoped the new policies, announced Apr. 11, would encourage students to stay on campus all four years, the changes sparked major pushback from the student body. Most students welcomed the new incentives for on-campus residents — which include free laundry and flexible meal plans — but many objected to the changes excluding off-campus students from the residence hall communities.

Senators argued that upperclassmen who move off campus play a key role in fostering community within the residence halls.

“Seniors who move off campus are still very much a part of the residential hall community, so I don’t think it should be considered [their] ‘former’ residence halls,” Fisher Hall senator and sophomore DC Morris said. “These guys and gals come back to Mass, they participate in dorm fundraisers and all that stuff — it’s not their ‘former’ residence hall.”

Specifically, student government leaders expressed fear that the changes would harm vulnerable student populations. Co-director of Student Life and junior Abby Smith underscored the financial pressures that lead many low-income students to move off campus.

“You basically pay 9% more to live on campus than you would to live off campus,” Smith said.

The resolution highlighted the experiences of LGBTQ students, victims of sexual assault and dating violence, disabled students and racial and ethnic minorities. Many of these students have experienced adverse treatment within their residence halls, as revealed by the 2018 Inclusive Campus Survey and the 2018 Sexual Conduct and Climate Questionnaire.

The new policies may further alienate students who move off campus to avoid this adverse treatment, senators argued.

“Separating [these students] from the activities that do build community cohesiveness and friendships … may eliminate the few remaining positive elements of a social living space for them,” the resolution said.

The objections raised Monday evening reflect a larger, ongoing debate about inclusivity and diversity on campus. In the wake of the Inclusive Campus Survey, which exposed the negative experiences many minority and female students face, student government leaders have been critical of the University administration.

In the 2019-2020 session of the student senate, student government leaders plan to carry this debate forward. Duncan Hall senator and freshman Jackson Oxler said he saw the resolution as an important step in the fight for student well-being.

“I think it’s really important that as the representative body as the student population here at Notre Dame, we take steps in the right direction toward representing student opinions — especially when issues that are this important to the students … come into play,” Oxler said in a comment after the meeting.

Monday marked the last regular senate meeting of the spring semester. After Tuesday’s special meeting with Hoffmann Harding and Russell, the senate concluded until next fall.

Despite the approaching end of the spring semester, however, senators continued planning for their work ahead. They discussed creating senate committees focusing on residential life, University finance and academic affairs.

“I think [residential life] is going to be a really important issue going forward, especially next year,” Alumni Hall senator and freshman Jack Rotolo said. “I’m 99% positive there will be more work to do after [the special senate meeting Tuesday], so I think it will be really important — especially for our constituents — that we have a senate committee pursuing this.”

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