Residency rule isn't a long term solution

by Beacon Staff • February 3, 2011

At issue:

The first wave of Emersonians hit the junior year residency requirement.

Our take:

The economic need to fill beds is simple, but its implications are not.

You know something has gone terribly, terribly wrong when the term “reverse housing” exists.

We at the Beacon understand the college’s decision to house juniors on campus was made out of necessity: Emerson has new real-estate and with the school’s rapid expansion comes the financial need to fill beds.

But we see a number of potential problems that administrators have yet to address. And they ought to.

One: Logistics.

A “reverse housing” lottery potentially forces rising juniors to choose between living in the dorms and living with their friends. Instead of having the option to apply for residency requirement exemptions in groups of four or five potential roommates, sophomores must apply individually, and hope their future roommates will also be “deselected.” They risk going out into Boston roomie-less, while their friends are assigned to live in a double with a freshman in the LB.

We suspect many sophomores won’t want to make this gamble and will avoid the “reverse housing” process altogether. This could lead to the opposite problem: too many residents and not enough beds. So then what? Kick the excess juniors out at the last minute?

While required to live on campus the first six semesters, students are only guaranteed housing for the first four. That sounds pretty ugly.

Two: Social Implications.

While administrators may be okay with the prospect of Emerson lions living in close proximity to freshman and sophomore cubs, they may be over-looking the social implications of the arrangement. The distance between a freshman’s and a junior’s college outlook is often wider than three years. Dorms should be a safe haven for newbies, where students can share the challenges of college with the support of friends. Too many Emerson-experts walking around the residence halls will only make college more intimidating for the already freaked-out freshmen.

Three: Booze.

Most juniors can legally drink. And they do. Increasing the number of juniors living on campus opens a whole new can of beer. Maybe administrators believe of-age students will comply with the strict limits on alcohol, but it’s more likely that a host of new issues — 21 year-old students buying booze for underage students, for example — will be shouldered by the school’s residence life staff. Resident assistants already have enough (drunkenness) to worry about.

We acknowledge that yearly housing placements are challenging. Each year, administrators have to guess whether the college will have a greater or smaller number of new students than it has on-campus beds.

But Emerson is pretty bad at guessing, and it’s hardly fair to deflect the consequences of the college’s miscalculations on juniors who want to live out in the city. Juniors and seniors: Remember when the college had to house students in neighboring hotels? In 2007 and 2008, students had a lottery to get on campus. Now we aren’t allowed off?

The changes Emerson has undergone in past years have been numerous and substantial. But this residency requirement should be a temporary fix, not a permanent situation. Emerson should not allow short-term financial problems to erode our college’s particular culture. We are “on the pulse of an international city,” not a three-block section of it.