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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Editorial: Old School vs. New School: “Traditions” Clash Over Student Housing

Despite what one student center coordinator described as a “token gesture” on the part of UMass Boston Administration to involve students and the surrounding community in voicing their concerns about student housing recently, the conversation has been heating up outside Quinn Building and committee room doors between “old-school” and “new- school” proponents since long before Sasaki Associates were called in to conduct a feasibility study.

The question here is not one of feasibility. UMB has the resources, through the selling of revenue bonds, or through future collection of room and board fees to fund construction of housing, they also have ample land on which to build. The question is not “can UMB build student housing?” But, “should UMB build student housing?” (Though the answer seems to have come before the question.)

This is where old-school and new-school visionaries are butting heads. Old-schoolers point to the university’s urban mission: to provide an affordable education at a commuter campus designed for working people. Since its creation, UMB has focused its efforts to accommodate working people, inner city, minority, and non-traditional students. Catering especially to working students supporting families, the average age of a UMB student has traditionally been substantially higher than other universities; it is currently around 27. Many fear that the construction of student housing will compromise the university’s mission by placing disproportionate emphasis on more traditional freshmen – 17 and 18-year-old high school graduates dependant on parental financial support.

At other universities that accommodate both commuter and on-campus students, there are examples of segregated student unions, student senates, and student clubs. Though it is unclear how students from either side will receive each other, there is little doubt student housing will bring with it a more traditional sense of student community: increased participation in student life, school pride, increased activity by clubs with more members. However, it could also result in fraternities, underage drinking, and segregation between younger, more “traditional” students and UMB’s non-traditional, financially independent, working students.

“At a time when Boston is facing a housing crunch,” says dean of Student Affairs, Stephanie Janey, “all of the schools in the area have been asked to help with housing.” The key term here being the area. UMB is isolated out on Columbia Point. The Columbia/Savin Hill Civic Association has expressed major concern about increased traffic on the point and the impact, both social and environmental, of 2,000 students added as residents to the point. One member of the association voiced concern that student residents will inevitably attract the solicitation of student businesses: “We do not want this to become the next Allston-Brighton.”

And of course there remains the question of who gets the housing. Two thousand beds will not accommodate 13,000 students. A dilemma to which Dean Janey remarked: “I can’t say exactly when we’ll get to that discussion.” But this issue lies at the center of the university’s intention – is it to design housing to retain students, while helping to ease the current housing crunch in the Boston area, or is it to reinterpret the university mission statement, to transform UMB step by step into Any Other U?

Old-schoolers sniff a conspiracy, new-schoolers can’t wait. Ultimately though, the construction of student housing on Columbia Point will definitively change not only the landscape, but the atmosphere of the point, particularly UMB.

Home is not necessarily where you lay your head. It’s where you invest your time, commit your energy, and do the work that improves both yourself and your surrounding community. Right now, 13,000 students living elsewhere call UMB home. It remains to be seen what 2,000 new kids on the block will have to contribute to the family.