UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Great Dorm Debate gets H.O.T.

Cara Lipper supports new dorms at UMass. Photo by Harry Brett / UMass Boston.
Cara Lipper supports new dorms at UMass. Photo by Harry Brett / UMass Boston.

It is a common occurrence at UMass Boston – undergraduate students transferring into UMass Boston from residential schools, only to leave the school in another year or two, tired of the daily grind of long school hours and even longer work hours. UMass Boston students are arguably the hardest working in the state, dealing with full-time jobs, marriages, families, and everything in between, all on top of schoolwork. It is no wonder that many students seek to lessen the burden by transferring to schools with student housing, and the administration has taken notice.

This month, the possibility of dorms at UMass Boston is being considered by the school’s Strategic Planning Committee, and already, a debate has begun among the school’s student body and faculty.

H.O.T. (Housing Options Today) is a campus organization that has sprung up to advocate for dorms at UMass Boston.

“H.O.T. was founded out of a general discontent for the lack of housing options available to students at UMass Boston,” explains Cara Lipper, President of H.O.T. “It was also fueled by the recent building of the Peninsula Apartment complex, which could have been used to create affordable student housing. Instead it houses few students, and the apartments start at one thousand dollars a month. We find the lack of any effort to expand housing options by the Student Senate or the administration extremely frustrating.”

Patrick Day, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, is one of the few members of the school’s administration that has spoken up about the campus debate. “I am for student success,” he said in an interview with The Mass Media earlier this month. “We have a problem retaining students. Affordable housing in Boston is extremely hard to come by, and I am for giving students options to help them with their education.”

But there are students and faculty on campus that disagree with that argument, saying that dorms would turn the school into an attractive option for students with Massachusetts’ Adams Scholarships, state scholarships students receive for scoring advanced on state MCAS examinations – effectively, “another BU,” as one student put it, a transformation that would destroy the school’s urban mission. And some say that with other pressing problems on campus, such as parking, the possibility of dorms is receiving disproportionate attention. “I don’t know how I feel about dorms, but I do think that money would be better spent on renovating or rebuilding some of the academic buildings that already desperately need to be updated,” said Patrick Brand, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts.

To those critics, Lipper says, “The phrase ‘urban mission’ has been thrown around so loosely that it has essentially become meaningless. UMB is failing its students right now, and that needs to be addressed. Our application and admissions numbers are up, but our retention rate is falling. At least part of this can be attributed to the need to commute, a lack of housing options, and a lack of campus culture. If students were able to live on campus, it wouldn’t be such a hassle to attend events, and campus culture would grow. In failing to retain students, one could say that UMB is essentially failing its overall mission, nevermind its urban mission.”

Day agrees. “There are a number of students we’re not currently serving. There are urban students who come from turbulent homes who cannot study here or at other colleges because they live in environments that aren’t conducive to education, and I would say that that is failing our urban mission,” says Day. “It’s not about becoming another type of institution. It’s about better serving our students and giving them the ability to make their own decisions about what housing option is better for them.”

The Strategic Planning Committee expects to electronically mail a survey concerning the possibility of dorms, and other aspects of campus life, by mid-March. Meanwhile, Lipper and the members of H.O.T. are compiling a petition and looking for students who would like to share their housing stories and frustrations. Forms are available through the Student Life office, or by e-mailing Lipper at [email protected].