Student Senate Urges University to Explore Housing Options

With on-campus housing, students commutes could be relieved.
Photo by John Kane III

With on-campus housing, students’ commutes could be relieved. Photo by John Kane III

Taylor Fife

With scores of universities littered throughout the Boston metro area, UMass Boston has differentiated itself by being an exclusively commuter campus. Some students view this as a positive unique aspect that creates a specific environment conducive to learning while others feel that its simply an indication of how far the university has fallen behind in offering services to students. At the Undergraduate Student Senate meeting two weeks ago, senators took a stand on the issue, passing a resolution arguing on behalf of more on-campus housing options.

The resolution argues that on-campus living would improve “personal, professional and academic development” and would have a “direct impact on the retaining and recruitment of quality students.” It claimed that benefits of on-campus housing “far outweigh” the costs and it also claims that the student body has identified on-campus housing as a need.

The resolution passed overwhelmingly, with only two votes against, but only after long debate. According to Senate President Michael Metzger the debate focused mostly on talking about the difference between dorms and other on-campus housing options, the urban mission, and international students. “There was very little debate on whether we should have housing options,” he said, noting that the idea of having more options was essentially a given.

“I think we’re failing the students,” Metzger said.

Ileana Adamez, a freshman from Haverhill currently living in Harbor Point agrees. “Every college that I’ve ever heard of has dorms, why doesn’t this one?” Adamez came to UMass Boston thinking that she would live on campus, but was disappointed when during orientation she heard that there are no options for on-campus living. “I don’t think you get the same kind of college experience without dorms,” she added.

Metzger was quick to point out that the word “dorms” was never used in the resolution. “We’re saying we’d like to look at all options,” he said. Metzger commented that the typical “10 by 10 cell” dorm-style rooms may not adequately serve students, but that apartment style living or “living-learning communities” would perhaps be more appropriate. Metzger called for “an extension of the classroom-a 24 hour learning community.”

“Our students deserve a safe place where they can go after classes that is part of this community,” Metzger said.

However, some students are wary of the changes that could be made to the campus if on-campus housing does become a reality.

“It would be illogical to have them,” student Sean Pirelli said. “So many people live at home, have full time jobs, they already have a house.”

Abby Duffy, a student who did not come straight from high school added “Having dorms would really change the whole aspect of the school and make it less welcoming to older students.”

Some faculty, students and community members have also suggested that by building residence halls UMass Boston may be moving away from the “urban mission” it was founded on. The university claims to have a mission to serve those often-underprivileged individuals living in the nearby surrounding urban community. Some claim that building dorms would push these people out of the university’s limited spots, and give them to richer, whiter and younger students from the suburbs.

Other students point out that this may not be a fiscally feasible idea, and that building dorms could result in higher tuition and fees, or at least room and board higher than many can pay. When residence halls were proposed in 2003, it was budget limitations that caused the idea to be shut down by then governor Mitt Romney.

For Student Educational Resource and Advocacy Council (SERAC) Director Michael Herbert, arguments that dorms will primarily benefit more homogenous suburban students do not hold water. “It’s going to serve students who are here right now,” he said. “The people who want housing are current students.”

Herbert has also been surprised at the number of students who really seem to want more housing options. “It’s very difficult to get a group around a cause,” he said, “and this is the cause that has gotten people together.”

Metzger argued that giving students more options for housing was in fact a way to fulfill the urban mission, claiming that limiting opportunities is causing unneeded burden to many. “Find me where it is written down that we can’t have on-campus housing,” challenged Metzger when asked if the urban mission and residence halls were incompatible.

In addition to making lives easier for the thousands of students who commute daily to Columbia Point, some claim that dorms could increase the desirability and quality of UMass Boston.

“I really think it has the opportunity to improve the reputation of the university,” Metzger said, noting that if the university hopes to fulfill the chancellor’s goals of increased retention and reputation, housing options could be necessary.

“I’m sure we’d have 10 times the students,” Adamez stated. “With on-campus housing, who wouldn’t want to come here?”