Room draw brings a `sigh of relief'

By Matt Won

With the college losing out on funds from over 100 vacancies in dorms this semester, pressure was high for the March 30 upperclassmen room draw to restore order to hotel Mac. As of press time, there were only 19 vacancies in upperclassmen housing.

The college can now breathe a sigh of relief, as the low number of vacancies signaled an end to this financial shortfall, making room draw a success for Res. Life.

“Nobody cried,” Residence Hall Director Allison Greenlee said. Res. Life Operation Manager Kathleen McEathron, who oversaw the room draw, estimated that 95 percent of the upperclassmen dorms would be filled, an improvement over last Fall’s 93 percent.

The abnormally high number of empty beds this semester cost the college $200,000, in part attributed to the record 176 students who studied abroad in Spring ’06, 102 more than in Fall ’05. 74 students studied abroad in Fall ’05.

To counter this financial loss and imbalance of juniors on campus in a given semester, the college instituted a cap on study abroad, with 115 students allowed to study abroad per semester.

The cap has, thus far, proven effective, as 129 students applied for the 115 available Fall ’06 spots. But discussion has resumed on finding ways to meet student concerns about upperclassmen housing, including possible changes to the meal plan.

The vacancies in this year’s upperclassmen room draw were split, with eight in Kirk, one in the Grand Cambridge Apartments, and 10 in GDD.

“It puts us in a tough spot too if we have no empty beds,” Hoppe said, “because in the event that someone needs to move or there’s issues that arise it causes stress if we’ve got no vacancies so at this level we should be in really good shape if that maintains.”

Many students have found the meal plan to be a significant factor in the decision to move off campus.

“Overall freedom takes a second to the meal plan [in reasons why I moved off-campus],” said Tyler Samples ’06, who has lived off-campus since his junior year. “I would’ve lived on-campus if I didn’t have to be on the meal plan.”

Residential Life was able to keep board costs constant from last year to this year. “It was a real concern that we keep that cost down for students,” Res. Life Operation Manager Kathy McEathron said.

Currently all students living on campus, even upperclassmen, must purchase the meal plan. The only “off board” residences are the Grand Cambridge Apartments and the cottages at 223, 229, and 233 Macalester Street.

Any changes to this policy would require negotiation with Bon App’¨tit, Macalester’s food services contractor, as its current contract with the school mandates that all students living on campus be on the meal plan. Next year’s contract has already been finalized: the earliest that students might see changes would be the ’07-’08 school year.

“Before we would decide on a meal contract we’d need to talk to students about what would be attractive,” Hoppe said. Hoppe has helped manage Res. Life this year during its staff changes. This research will be done before discussions begin on the college’s budget next October.

Other students voiced concerns over Res. Life’s policies on alcohol and their enforcement, citing alternative approaches.

“The RAs should be the ones that are tasked with keeping people safe from the Hall Director, who will punish you for anything. The Hall Director should be like the big meanie, and then the RA always looks like the hero,” Samples said. “Good cop bad cop, it’d work really well.”

Others spoke out for a better understanding of the current system. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that for RAs it also sucks because they’re put in a really bad position where they’re basically caught between their job and their friends, or their job and their social life,” former RA and PB Chair Will Clarke ’07 said. “I don’t think Res Life is that bad—they’re doing a job that has to be done and it’s a lose-lose situation for them.”

Even sophomores who had no problems with Residential Life’s drug and alcohol policy have made plans to live off campus next year. “I’m going to be able to cook my own food,” Grace Ausick ’08 said.

The decision for others underlined the fact that Macalester can’t strictly financially compete with off-campus food and housing arrangements. “I wanted to be with friends who also live off campus, I can’t stand the meal plan, and I had the ability to get a better room for cheaper,” Etie Grunfeld ’08 said.

Despite the many reasons students give for wanting to live off campus, many choose to stay, as the decrease in vacancies shows.

“I’m studying abroad in Nicaragua next Spring, so it would be nice to keep practicing Spanish before I’m thrown into study abroad,” said Galen Baynes ’08, who will be living in the Spanish House next semester. “A main reason people live off campus is to burst the Macalester bubble. The Spanish House gives me the opportunity to do that.”

Changes in regulations streamlined the senior year housing transition for juniors. In the past, unless all occupants of a room can commit to living in a room the following semester, they would lose the room and be forced to go through room draw again. The new rules allow occupants to keep a room if at least half the residents will be staying in it the next semester, as long as they can fill the vacancies with new inhabitants.

This was also the first year of gender-open housing in selected rooms, and Res. Life views the project as a success story. Despite much pressure to further expand gender-open housing, no consensus could be reached on a solution within Res. Life, according to Hoppe.