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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Dorm Deliberation

As the University of Massachusetts Boston begins to move forward with its 25-year development plan that includes proposals for on-campus residencies, I am reminded of my own undergraduate experience at a residential university at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. There are distinct differences between a residential and non-residential campus that can be interpreted as either benefits or bothersome.

At Samford I had the opportunity to live both on and off campus, which gave me the opportunity to live as both a residential student and as a commuter. I preferred living on campus, because it was much more convenient.

My school’s policy required all students to live on campus until they were 21, unless they were residents of the greater Birmingham area. While some students found this rule limiting, I believed it was a boon, especially during my freshman year. The entire freshman class is housed in one of three buildings located directly in the center of campus. This arrangement had two distinct benefits. First, since all the freshmen were grouped together, we got to know our classmates pretty quickly. Residence halls give students a common, shared experience that often establishes a bond between them and enables students to develop a sense of community as a student body. In fact, some of my best friendships were made my freshman year with girls who lived on my hall. Second, the central location meant that freshmen, who might easily be isolated if they didn’t previously know anyone, were in the middle of everything that happened on campus.

There were other benefits that came with living on campus. As residents, students could purchase a meal plan from the cafeteria as part of their room and board. When and if students chose to move off campus, this meal plan was no longer included. Similar to the Charlie Card that reduces the fare from $2.00 per ride to around $1.70 per ride, a meal plan reduced the daily cost of a meal by buying in bulk.

Parking was another benefit. It was much simpler and cheaper in comparison to UMass Boston’s parking. As a resident, parking lots were closer to the academic buildings and much more convenient. There was a an annual fee for two parking decals that came to a total of $25, so it was much cheaper than paying on a weekly or bi-semester basis.

Although a residential campus has some great advantages, it has one big disadvantage: a lack of diversity. By forcing students to live on campus, a residential university limits its attractiveness to nontraditional students. In my experience, most of the students living on campus tended to be from the same background, while commuters tended to be nontraditional students. This meant there was a segregation of sorts that prevented the two groups from interacting on a more personal level than classroom dialog provides. I chose to do my doctoral program at UMass Boston because of its history of diversity, which creates a broader sense of community more like that of the communities outside the university. The college becomes a microcosm of the global community.

Non-residential colleges leave the business of housing to experts. For example quasi-residence halls, such as Harbor Point or the Archstone in Quincy, are run by outside management in the housing business. This translates into better upkeep over the years and nicer amenities in general.

As UMass Boston looks forward to a future that may include residence halls, the administration and the student body will have to decide how such changes will affect the character of UMass Boston and if they, in fact, want those changes.