Ask any Obie how they feel about the Office of Residential Education, and they’ll probably recount numerous pent-up grievances. ResEd’s laundry list of mishaps from the past year includes their inability to reconnect students with their belongings, RAs feeling unsupported during COVID-19, and students complaining of mold discovered in student housing. The third-years on this Editorial Board distinctly remember the summer before our first semester, when housing assignments were repeatedly delayed. The difference is that back then, the Oberlin 2022 Facebook group was filled with comments of incoming first-years cheering on ResEd as they struggled to finish housing assignments. Three years later — absent the bubbly anticipation of fresh-faced high school graduates — this same experience is less endearing.
Housing assignments have been repeatedly pushed back this year; on June 30, ResEd told students that housing assignments would be out on the fourth week of July, but on July 30, ResEd extended their own deadline to the week of Aug. 9. That week has now passed, and there has been radio silence from ResEd on this subject. This has left students anxious and uncertain about where they would live this fall, with many trying to figure out their housing assignments through a webpage glitch: by checking their “updated” address on the Student Health Portal — although it’s unclear if this actually reflects ResEd’s true placements. It wasn’t just on-campus assignments that were late, though. Students applying for the off-campus lottery were not notified about their status until two weeks after they were originally promised. It’s especially tricky for off-campus housing assignments to be late, because it leaves students and landlords scrambling to get leases signed at the last minute. Now, after initially denying several rising fourth-years off-campus status, ResEd is practically begging students to make off-campus arrangements, presumably because they do not have enough housing for the largest incoming class Oberlin’s ever had.
Obviously, no one is literally going into the next semester without a roof over their head — though last fall ResEd emailed some students advising them to “search for off-campus rentals outside of the City of Oberlin” because of how limited housing was during the de-densified COVID-19 semesters. Even when students ultimately end up with a housing assignment, the delays are causing undue anxiety during an already stressful semester. Living arrangements are already deeply personal and impact the student experience greatly — especially during the pandemic, when students often eat, study, go to classes, and relax in their rooms. For the amount of money that students pay — which breaks down to approximately $1,100 per month — you would expect a luxury suite or a New York City studio, not a Barrows Hall double in small town Ohio.
Beyond the chaos of this semester specifically, ResEd could use some upgrades. First of all, what is the word “education” doing in “Residential Education?” A true “residential education” experience would help Obies hone their community building skills and their understanding of how to contribute to a shared space, yet very few dorms have any sense of community at all. We know Obies are fully capable of community building in a residential space — just ask anyone in the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association. Students want community and are capable of creating communal living environments, yet ResEd is rarely successful in supporting this. We also see Obies’ ability to create communities though spaces like Afrikan Heritage House or the Roots in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program. But this gives little credit to ResEd: A-House is managed by Director and Faculty in Residence Candice Raynor in addition to the hard work of lots of students, and the Roots in STEM program owes a lot of its success to Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research Leslie Kwakye and Howard Hughes Medical Institute STEM Fellow Marcus Hill, neither of whom are employed by ResEd.
The Division of Student Life, of which ResEd is a part, is having a hard time in general right now. There has been a lot of administrative turnover in the past four months, and we understand that it must be hard to operate with limited leadership and resources. But the truth is, no department within Student Life seems to be struggling quite as much as ResEd. The good news is that we’re looking forward to the next academic year where we hope to see a rebuilding of Student Life; we have a new Dean of Students starting this September and the College hopes to quickly fill the remaining vacancies. This Editorial Board hopes that, along with building up Student Life, ResEd itself can be re-envisioned. At the very least, ResEd could assign housing placements on time and give students a choice in where they’re living. Beyond that, ResEd could work to actually enhance the student experience: the Resident Assistant role could be restructured so that RAs are trained to act in a similar vein as Peer Advising Leaders, and Living Learning Communities and identity-based housing could be given the resources they need to build meaningful communities.
It may be too ambitious to suggest that ResEd improve housing communities when they have yet to meet the status quo of placing students into living spaces on time. However, with the recent changes in Student Life, ResEd has the opportunity to evaluate why these problems keep occurring and to restructure how they operate. We hope that they put in the effort to do so.