The class of 2021 hasn’t even left high school yet, but their undergraduate experience will already be different from their predecessors.
They’re the guinea pig class for a component of the Housing Master Plan – a 10-year construction plan to renovate or rebuild almost every residence hall on campus – that will require all full-time undergraduate students to live on campus for their first two years at Northwestern. But students who study abroad or participate in programs away from the Evanston campus like Medill on the Hill won’t have to live on campus after their second year to make up for their time away.
The university hopes this shift in undergraduate housing will go smoothly, since they will be beginning with a brand new crop of students who haven’t known college before the residency requirement.
Jennifer Luttig-Komrosky, executive director of Residential Services, says the university didn’t implement the residency requirement as a way to make more money, but rather to reshape the undergraduate experience. From borderline industrial kitchens and faculty-in-residence apartments to basement classroom space and laundry rooms on every floor, the Housing Master Plan will leave practically no stone unturned (even Elder, which isn’t undergoing renovation, but will open to upperclassmen next year).
The university is also hoping to develop a new “philosophy” about how students live during their first two years. Luttig-Komrosky says the aim of this new approach will hopefully make living on campus the same kind of iconic experience as March Through the Arch and Wildcat Welcome. “We know that you can’t just make changes to physical structures and expect to see the student experience be measurably different,” Luttig-Komrosky says. “Our intention here is to be able to build a philosophy that supports the undergraduate experience and is articulated through the first and second year.”
NU is hoping their renovated dorms will help strengthen that idea. For example, recently renovated Shepard Hall and 1838 Chicago (formerly home to Shepard Residential College and the Public Affairs Residential College) make up one residential community. Compare it to residential halls like Bobb and 1835 Hinman, and you’ll find more programming, common spaces, classrooms and shared facilities like the Shepard Engagement Center, which has a full kitchen, private study cubicles and swinging egg chairs, among other things. Shepard Hall is open to students of every year, and Luttig-Komrosky says her hope is that upperclassmen connect with first year students, sharing knowledge, advice and experiences.
The idea for the residency requirement didn’t come from one single person. The Undergraduate Residential Experience Committee (UREC), a group of administrators, residential directors, students and NU community members, conducted research and led a series of town halls to draft the future of Northwestern residential life. This included the residency requirement, which, according to Luttig-Komrosky, NU has considered several times before but never implemented until now.
Northwestern is also forming an appeals process that may grant some students an exemption, which will look at on an individual basis and can give for a variety of reasons, including personal circumstances and financial reasons, according to Luttig-Komrosky. The univresity will work with students to find alternate solutions like appealing for a different financial aid package.
If new dorms and a new residency requirement weren’t enough, the 2017-18 school year will also be the pilot year for the Open Access Plan, a complete overhaul of the current dining hall plan. The Open Access Plan will be mandatory for freshmen, and will allow students to swipe into dining halls as many times as they want. In addition to that, the Weekly 14 will change to the Base 14 plan (14 meals a week with more “dining dollars” – which replaces equivalency meals and WildCat Points) at $99 cheaper a quarter. There will be no Block Plan. Its descendant, the Flex Plan, is a similar package of 110 meals a quarter open to juniors, seniors and students living in Greek houses.
Greek chapters each have different requirements and processes for their houses. While some fraternities and sororities have their own live-in requirement, the Northwestern chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA) doesn’t. Hayley Miller, the Northwestern ZTA president, says she wonders if the new Housing Master Plan will increase competition for sorority housing because of its amenities and increased programming. This would make ZTA either force executive council members to live in or absorb the cost of any empty spaces.
Fewer fraternities have live-in requirements, but for some that don’t, living in the house is considered an “expectation” anyway, according to former Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) President Aaron Kaplan. AEPi almost never has trouble filling its house, and the point system they use to pick housing is often competitive. Kaplan doesn’t think the residency requirement will affect demand for living in the house, but he wonders if students might lean more towards rushing since they have to live on campus their second year and might not want to deal with the housing lottery a second time.
“From a personal standpoint, the requirement is going to go a long way towards improving the sense of community on campus, something that I would have liked to have as part of my first couple years,” Kaplan says. “Regardless of whether you’re in Greek housing or not, I think people in one location, close to each other, I think that is incredibly beneficial toward building a more connected, close community.”