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ACUHO-I External Review Team
At the request of Director of Residential Life Jeffrey Ederer, an external review was conducted of the residential life program at Wesleyan. Tom Ellett, executive director of housing and residence life at New York University, and Leslie Urban, associate director of residence life at Davidson College, visited Wesleyan April 16 - 17, 2003.
The reviewers were asked to evaluate the department’s vision and strategic goals for enhancing the quality of the university’s learning community; its overall program, including operation, staff training, facilities, community development, and policies and procedures; internal and external communication; organizational structure, and staffing levels for central office staff, live-in professional staff, and student staff.
The reviewers identified numerous issues and presented recommendations. Their most significant findings concerned the need to articulate a vision for residential life that puts it squarely in the context of Wesleyan's learning community. This sense of purpose can then inform key decisions about the roles of both professional and student staff. The work of both groups thus can become better aligned with institutional learning objectives. Among the consultants' findings and recommendations, those listed below are of greatest strategic and operational importance.
Key findings include:
There appears to be a lack of formal connection between the in-class and out-of-class experiences at Wesleyan. Students currently view the residence hall as a “place to sleep” and “live with your friends,” rather than as a place with intentional educational goals. Wesleyan’s college environment is a perfect place to create a living-learning community.
Residential life programs across the country are becoming more focused on the academic context of student life. With this in mind, it would be good for Wesleyan to answer the following questions: What educational benefit is there in having a residential campus? What can the institution do to impart learning to students outside the classroom? Wesleyan should discuss what outcomes students should gain from the housing experience and then enhance programs and staffing to match those goals.
The program houses offer the best possibility to align Residence Life goals with the academic goals of the institution. There may be roles that the academic units and other university faculty and administrators could play within the residential setting. The dean's office should collaborate with Academic Affairs to design and implement programming in this area.
There was a good deal of discussion and disagreement regarding Wesleyan's non-discrimination stance as it relates to program housing. The current program housing model—affinity housing—can be seen as discriminatory, yet it flourishes on the campus. A number of peer institutions have not allowed homogenous groups to live together in one facility. This is a very delicate issue. A campus dialogue should be created to consider Wesleyan's long-held traditions and to guide its future practice.
Every year, numerous students are transported to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. The university must decide whether to continue handling these situations with a counseling response, as opposed to a behavioral response. The recommendations in the 2001 University's alcohol policy review do not appear to have been fully implemented.
Many staff members do not believe the institution is doing enough to hold students accountable for their behavior. Additionally, some professional staff in Residential Life believe that the system falls short in cases where students may need serious intervention for their alcohol or drug behaviors.
The current model of enforcement creates ambiguity about the university’s expectations of student staff. The role of student staff should be reviewed and modified to align with the university's goals for behavioral aspects of residential life.
Student comments in the Admissions brochures suggest that they have a great deal of autonomy and freedom. The materials should also be clear about the expectations of the institution that students be good and responsible citizens.
The Office of Residential Life appears to bear the brunt of announcing and instituting policies that should be presented as University decisions. Examples include the fraternity house agreement and changes in program houses (Malcolm X House and WestCo). The university leadership does not spend time with front-line student staff explaining how particular decisions fit the mission of the institution.
At Wesleyan, it appears as if students believe that their voice needs to be the most influential one in decision making. While students are crucial in the life of the institution, it struck the reviewers as strange how much students believe they should have the ultimate authority for what happens at Wesleyan. While the reviewers appreciate and desire student involvement, it appears that students do not understand their role. Much of their displeasure with Residential Life is located in their feeling that the institution is not taking students' perspectives into account.
The head resident position leads to inconsistencies in supervision. Head residents supervise some of the student staff, while the full-time professional staff supervise others. Students reported that supervision was “stricter” from professional staff. Student staff members supervised by head residents were more vocal in their distrust for and disengagement from the Residential Life Office.
Key recommendations include:
Wesleyan University's student governing body.
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