“When I started Facebook from my dorm room in 2004, the idea that my roommates and I talked about all the time was a world that was more open.” — Mark Zuckerberg
This quote captures the possibilities and the essence of living in residence on campus at a college or university. At the heart of it, the reality is that community, friendships and relationships develop in a residence environment that can last forever and can lead to the most amazing things.
Realities and myths
Personally, I landed in university as an 18 year old and lived in a co-ed residence (which was an unusual arrangement in 1984). I can testify to the impact that experience had on me academically, personally and, eventually, professionally. It was incredible. But, not all experiences are created equal.
Today, residence living itself is subject to a host of misconceptions, preconceptions and stereotypes. During my career in post-secondary education, I have heard them all. Inevitably, they can centre on residence being a party zone where alcohol and drugs fly far and wide. Assumptions are made about academic performances of students being below par. Often, we hear stories about the activities of students that are negative and do not reflect the highest standard of the institution.
Because it’s 2017
However, the reality is that, in an environment of some 1,900 students living 24 hours a day in close quarters, there are far more positive experiences and outcomes than negative. Today’s residence environment is becoming a more sophisticated living experience for students driven by some basic realities and needs.
Students and parents want value for their money
Residences are responding with a reinvigorated suite of supports and services to ensure value for investment.
At Memorial, we have adapted and changed how we operate. This year, we partnered with The Commons project to create a space for studying, learning and gathering on the main floor of Hatcher House. Open up to 14 hours a day, it is a strategic space for student interaction, study, technology use and socialization.
Similarly, behind the scenes, we have undertaken growth in specialized supports in the areas of mental health and well-being, healthy lifestyles and proactive educational programs around such things as alcohol and drugs. Finally, we work closely with partners, including our food service provider and Facilities Management, to ensure basic needs such as food, cleaning and maintenance are exceeding standards.
Academic success is a priority
It has always been, but students come more focused than ever before and want to succeed. Our response to this has included expansion of tutoring programs, engaging with faculties and departments more directly, and partnerships with services across campus.
Internally, we have started to move towards Living Learning Communities (LLCs), which brings together students living in the same buildings and floors who are pursuing specific programs such as nursing and engineering. Research supports the fact that residence students actually perform 20 per cent better academically than non-residence students.
Students want to be involved and give back
This is a shining area that deserves more attention. Today’s students volunteer, advocate, lead and demand better overall. In Paton College, you will find formal and informal student groups and individuals volunteering for the Janeway Children’s Hospital, the Campus Food Bank, raising funds for literacy, and driving advocacy work for themselves and others. It is an incredibly satisfying thing to witness. Unfortunately, those stories and events don’t always get the attention they deserve. But, slowly, we think we’re making that an issue of awareness and involvement for the university community overall.
Students crave personal interaction
These are facts. As Mr. Zuckerberg’s quote demonstrates, students will talk, and talk, and learn and motivate each other. The value of friendship and support that becomes lifelong and can incubate ideas is compelling and proven. Residence living fosters that constantly, whether that conversation and idea occurs at 3 a.m. or over dinner at the dining hall. Students want personal relationships and development. In an age of digital dominance, we see that basic human need becoming even more important.
Residence life will continue to evolve. Annual demand for residence space outstrips supply 2:1 in our newest building, Macpherson College. Market analysis indicates that demand for new and innovative space will continue, as will the expectations of our students who want to live on campus. That includes the growing market of graduate students, married, single, blended families and so on. The challenge of staying ahead of that curve will continue. If you ever want a tour or to learn more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to show you around.
Focused on Students is a summer series featuring members of the Office of the Deputy Provost (Students) leadership team sharing their insights on hot button, student success-related topics.