The Falcon   |   Volume 83, Issue 53

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Students ask to live off campus

Upper Gwinn floods with students hoping to get the dorm room or on-campus apartment they want.
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Upper Gwinn floods with students hoping to get the dorm room or on-campus apartment they want.
Photo credit: CURTIS SIMPSON IV/The Falcon.

Some say there is a need for more exceptions to live elsewhere

By , Staff Reporter

Published: May 22 2013

Some student petitions submitted for permission to live off campus are being denied by Residence Life, causing some students and student representatives to call for housing policy modifications.

Junior Kayla Chronister is one student whose petition to live off campus for the 2013-2014 academic year has been denied, as well as her appeal to Residence Life’s decision.

Chronister skipped three grades in high school to attend Mary Baldwin College in Virginia before transferring to Seattle Pacific University, where she is currently a junior despite being only 17 years old. The fact that she will be graduating from SPU next spring is one reason Chronister believed she would be allowed to live off campus next year.

“I was sort of under the impression that I would be able to live off campus next year since I would academically be a senior, but once my petition was reviewed, Residence Life told me my circumstance was not exceptional enough,” Chronister said. “I found their response weird, since skipping three grades seems like an exceptional circumstance to me.”

Chronister has been living in on-campus housing the past year, but she says living there has been problematic, which is why she petitioned to live off campus.

Chronister said her current on-campus housing has had problems with the plumbing and she frequently finds bugs inside the unit.

Chronister has spent a total of three years living in on-campus housing between Mary Baldwin College and SPU. However, despite Chronister’s academic standing, there is no criteria by which Residence Life would allow her to seek off-campus living arrangements.

According to the residential living requirements set by Residence Life, students are required to live on campus unless they are at least 20 years old, or they plan to live with parents or guardians, or they are enrolled in eight or fewer credits. Residence life also enforces a two-year guarantee of six consecutive academic quarters of on-campus housing given to first-time freshmen.

A committee within Residence Life reviews whether students’ situations qualify for off-campus living using a set criteria.

The committee typically consists of the acting director, assistant director and administrative assistant of Residence Life with consultation provided for specific situations with Residence Life coordinators or other SPU department representatives. The committee utilizes four categories when reviewing a petition to decide if it will be approved.

Within these categories, if a student can show that living off campus is a condition of employment or there are special medical conditions for which a physician has prescribed housing arrangements, the committee will consider approving their petition. Other situations the committee considers valid include living with relatives other than a parent or guardian or other extenuating circumstances.

“For situations with exceptional need or hardship, we work with other departments on campus to provide a response to the student’s situation, including collaboration with Student Financial Services, the Center for Learning and the Student Counseling Center,” said Lynnea Commons, assistant director of Residence Life.

Despite the outlined policies that Residence Life says are used to review student petitions, some students are raising concerns that the current policies set do not sufficiently reflect or address their needs.

“There are an increasing number of circumstances where it doesn’t make sense to have some students living on campus prolonged,” said Chronister, who believes one year of living on campus makes more sense than two.

SPU sophomore and Senator at Large Joslyn Smith has been looking to represent the concerns of students regarding housing and the petition process.

Smith said she’s been in contact with Housing and Residence Life Administration and has exchanged correspondence with SPU President Daniel J. Martin since receiving multiple requests from students for a change in policy that better addresses personal situations.

With the petition and appeal process, Smith has received concerns about the lack of housing options for students who say they do not thrive in an on-campus environment.

Smith said the students who have approached her feel there should be more options for adequate on-campus housing or the opportunity for more students to live off campus.

Smith said students have also told her that they want the petition process to feel more personal and involved.

According to Smith, students say there is a disconnect between the petition process and the people who handle it. Some students say that the process is too impersonal and, as a result, individual concerns are not being addressed, in part because the process strictly looks at whether a petition fits the criteria with no possibility for further review following an appeal, Smith said.

“I feel that the process we have now has worked; however, it is my place to represent how the students want the petition process to be reformed,” Smith said. “If that means changing it, maybe we should look toward how we can better provide for the student body’s needs.”

Smith wants to address the reality that the student body is going to continue to increase, and SPU will need to provide increased housing for the incoming student population. Her question to Residence Life is how the university will address the need for more living accommodations.

“Whether that’s letting more students off campus or finding new ways to expand on-campus housing, that’s a conversation that I’m working to have with administration.” Smith said.

Chronister continues to argue her petition mainly because she does not want to be placed in any of the on-campus housing options.

“I think that if the university is going to enforce a policy in which they require a majority of the student body to live on campus, then they need to make sure that their housing is the best and most affordable option,” Chronister said. “Which I don’t think it currently is.”

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