By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer
As the telltale signs of autumn emerge across the Eastern Shore, so do the fresh faces of Washington College students, a majority of which will make their temporary homes in campus residence halls. While the dorms are not without their own unique flaws, they provide reliable accommodations in convenient proximity to the academic and social centers of campus. Though the stained cinderblock walls do not uphold the standards set by the grandiose Ivy League institutions portrayed in movies, College facilities are a safe and comfortable starting ground for students preparing for life of independent from their parents.
Beyond the remarkable ease of a trip from Kent House to Martha’s in pursuit of midnight fries, research reveals a number of benefits to living on campus.
“While living on campus, you learn to navigate living with other people you don’t necessarily know and make meaningful connections,” said Amy Sine, associate director of residential life at WC.
She believes living on campus provides students with the opportunity to gain valuable life skills in a supportive environment.
Alexander Astin, founding director of Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, has spent five decades surveying more than 5,000 students across the United States about their experiences in campus residence halls. His results suggest residing on campus enhances learning, promotes social interaction, and ultimately leads to degree completion and higher student retention.
“Living on campus means you are close to social events, academic support services, and athletics. There is a certain amount of convenience in being so close to everyone and everything,” Sine said.
The entirety of the WC campus can be traversed in roughly 10 minutes. This closeness ensures students never miss anything, from early-morning lectures to bingo nights.
Living within mere footsteps of academic buildings not only eliminates a long commute to class but ensures easy access to resources such as study groups and professor office hours. Freshman biology students are far more agreeable to an 8 p.m. course mentor session when the comforts of their rooms wait just yards away.
Moreover, trekking through Hodson Hall, down the Cater Walk or across the library terrace exposes students to the campus happenings, whether by alerting them to the existence of a Student Events Board event later that day or simply reminding them to circle up with friends at Java.
“Living on campus during your college career is a tremendous opportunity to make new friends and develop skills that will be beneficial in the future,” Sine said.
Constant presence in shared campus spaces establishes a sense of community, draws the student body closer and supports the social needs of each individual.
Though there are benefits to living on campus, each student has different needs. Thus, some seek housing elsewhere. WC does allow upperclassmen to live off-campus under certain circumstances.
According to the WC website, certain criteria such as GPA and social standing must be met before a student is considered for off-campus living. In the spring of 2019, Residential Life was unable to take any more requests for off-campus housing, according to an Elm article from May. This is speculated to encourage more students to live on campus.
Inarguably, student presence adds tremendously to the campus atmosphere. A visit to a predominantly commuter-based college on a Friday evening is akin to walking through an abandoned town; yet, the WC campus is alive with SEB events, sports games, and students having a sunset picnic on the green.
“For the health of the institution, it is important for us to fill our beds, but also we are a residential college. We recognize that the residential experience is important in our education here,” Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life Ursula Herz said in the same Elm article.
Residence Life is constantly looking for ways to improve residence halls, both to make the time spent in them more comfortable for students and to combat the draw to migrate elsewhere. These improvements are evident in the newer River Dorms that lie beyond the baseball stadium.
“We have installed kitchens on each floor of the River Halls,” Sine said. “We have added some new furniture and gaming equipment in the Rivers as well.”
She said that these amenities will enrich the experience of students beyond the River residents, as all students have access to the communal kitchens and wellness facilities.
While these changes do add comfort to the lives of residents, the prospect of moving off-campus is still enticing to many.
“It was cheaper to split the rent four ways monthly, and I also wanted to taste adult living before I left college,” said senior Kate Voynow, who lives in Chestertown and found peace in the solitude provided by having her own space.
A chance to experience independence is a common draw to living off campus.
“Figuring out how to take care of the house, do chores, keep in contact with my landlord while simultaneously keeping up with my school work has been challenging. But once we figured it out it’s been immensely liberating and just plain fun,” Voynow said.
Voynow speculated on other elements of on-campus living that can be amended:
“Maybe on-campus living could improve if they had more places where students could detach from the noise college tends to bring. I’m not sure if this is possible, but I know I would’ve benefited from it if something like this [was available].”
Be it literal noise from chattering groups in the library or the constant activity generated by students bustling around the Toll atrium, campus can be an anxious minefield for introverts, the easily-distracted, or those with difficulty in sensory processing.
The expansion of quiet study areas and improvements to the singles in the Hill dorms could provide students the opportunity to escape the constant activity seen around campus.
Sine assures even more advancements to residence halls will be coming in time. She explains their goals are to improve sustainability initiatives and strengthen ties with campus partners and outdoor community areas. The geothermal heating and cooling systems installed in the newly-renovated Cullen dorms already show a positive trend toward environmental consciousness and will provide far greater comfort than window air conditioners.
It is a rite of passage for college students to gripe about dingy dorm rooms. However, the residential program at WC is designed to provide a framework to prepare students for life after college while still allowing them a comfortable environment in which to spend the interim between their parents’ houses and the adult world.