Off-campus students' concerns get attention

Recent discussion has highlighted complaints

by Margo Lipschultz

Getting off campus is just half the battle. When a student moves off campus, where are the student's support systems in Student Life?

Some students and staff members have expressed concern recently about the extent of support the College offers the 865 students, or approximately 30 percent of the student body, who live off-campus. Issues raised include the lack of support for students with landlord problems, lack of ethernet access to off-campus students and dining and parking concerns, among others.

"I feel like the College basically treats people who are off-campus like they're still living on-campus, which makes parking and dining options very difficult," off-campus resident junior Erica Zaklin said. "Off-campus students should be allowed off-board and should be allotted more student parking."

Student senators recently passed a series of proposals to improve the quality of services the College provides to off-campus students. In the executive summary of the proposals he authored, senator senior Chapin Benninghoff wrote that, "Many basic benefits and support structures extended to on-campus students are denied to off-campus students."

One proposal suggested creating the position of Student Coordinator for Off-Campus Concerns, who would work with the department of Student Life and Services. The position would be fairly temporary, until a full-time staff member could be hired. Under the proposal, the Student Coordinator would be in charge of researching off-campus life and creating "a public, web-based database of information of off-campus rental properties" in order to keep students updated on their housing options.

"I know from trying to get off-campus myself that it is an utter pain in the neck," Benninghoff said, adding that the creation of a central database would eliminate the confusion students feel when trying to find housing.

Staff members in the Student Life and Services department responded to the proposal by announcing their intentions to hire a Student Coordinator. Associate Dean of Student Life and Services Bill Stackman is currently conducting interviews to fill the position.

The job description given to candidates asserted that the Student Coordinator would be in charge of "contacting local landlords for current information, gathering information and working on projects relevant to the needs of off-campus students," as well as compiling all research in an informal booklet to be distributed to all off-campus students at next semester's housing registration.

"This is coming out of my discussions with students about their needs and concerns," Stackman said.

Benninghoff views the creation of the position as a positive step toward increasing support for off-campus students. He said Oberlin is lacking in this area of support compared to other colleges and universities whose programs he researched.

"I had the opportunity to go to the University of Michigan and study their off-campus policies. They're aggressive advocates for students there," Benninghoff said. "The Residential Life and Services department needs to become more of a positive advocate for off-campus students. There needs to be a resource for the small percentage of students that do get in trouble with their landlords and need advice."

Housing and Dining Manager Sandra Hougland feels the Residential Life and Services department should handle requests for increased support carefully.

"Some students go off-campus because they want independence and do not want the administration involved," she said. "I'm not really clear what off-campus students want from us. We want to respect their wish for independence but support them where they want support."

Double-degree junior and off-campus resident Steven Manthe feels Hougland has the right idea about College intervention in off-campus affairs. "It's not ResLife's responsibility to take care of students who live off-campus. If they choose to live off-campus they should be responsible for themselves," he said.

Hougland said she sees her department as a place where students can go for advice if they have landlord problems and vice-versa for landlords whose student tenants don't fulfill their contract.

"I've been in this position since 1985, and we've always just sort of been a resource where students could go to get advice. We've sometimes provided a list of landlords to help them find housing, but it's always been considered a private arrangement between students and landlords," she said. She added that she usually refers students to city officials who can help them further.

Hougland felt the College responds well to emergency situations, such as the fire that destroyed three students' house earlier this year.

"We provided clothing and emergency funds and helped the students find alternate housing, since they'd lost so much," Hougland said.

She supported hiring a Student Coordinator but mentioned difficulties in eventually hiring a full-time Off-Campus Area Coordinator. "It's a budget issue. The staff of this department was just cut two years ago. Expanding it again might be hard," she said.

Diana Roose, assistant to President of the College Nancy Dye, agreed with Hougland that hiring a Student Coordinator is a good idea but that off-campus issues should be handled with care.

"There are no changes currently being discussed in any formal way," Roose said. "Off-campus students are sort of an anomaly. They don't have the Residential Life staff support that they would if they lived in a dorm; often they don't want it. But they are still our students. We still have a responsibility to help them when in need, and in medical and other emergency situations."

Although Senate also passed proposals to increase off-campus ethernet access, renovate houses and allow all juniors to move off-campus, many current off-campus residents said their biggest concern is dining.

"I definitely wish I could eat off-board, because it's so much cheaper. I end up doing that anyway and still paying for CDS," junior Katy Higgins said.

Senior Jennifer Skarda agreed. "We have to eat on board, which is sort of difficult because we spend a lot of money buying food for the house since it's not as convenient to eat on campus, especially for breakfast and on weekends. Other than that, I love living off- campus," she said.

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Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 11, December 5, 1997

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