Worried they were “losing the spirit” of the 5C Housing Exchange, 5C residential life deans had been thinking about nixing the little-used dorm swap option for four years. They finally announcement the program’s cancellation Feb. 15, leaving students living at other campuses in the consortium alarmed and dismayed.
Kirsten Carrier, the residence life director at Pitzer College, said administrators “really gave it our all and tried to make it work both for students and us” over the past few years after proposing the cancellation of the program in the 2015-2016 academic year, “but we were still running into the same situations over and over.”
The exchange program, also known as the 5C Living Exchange, allowed undergraduate students to trade housing arrangements with each other and live at a different college in the consortium. The group of 5C deans said the program would not be returning starting fall 2019.
The exchange required a student at one college to find another student at a different 5C to switch with them, according to an executive summary provided by Pomona College housing director Frank Bedoya. The deans wrote in the email to students that the program had “low student participation and posed more complications and less benefits to all involved.”
“Each student was contractually obligated to fulfill living in their exchange’s campus space,” the summary reads. “If either student was unable to fulfill this requirement (due to a leave of absence, withdrawal, conduct issue, etc.), both students were required to return back to their home campus.”
Carrier said via email that when exchanges don’t work out ― about half the time ― “it has a disparate impact on the students,” because the student who decides to pull out of the program is “also making a decision for their fellow student in the housing exchange. This resulted in many very disappointing situations for students.”
Carrier said complications included the amount of administrative time that it took to help students facilitate the process and the frequency with which the exchange failed because at least one person backed out of it.
Fewer than 50 students participated annually, Carrier said, and Pitzer and Pomona were the two schools with the highest number of students participating.
Administrators were also concerned for the safety of students living at other schools.
“There’s so many things behind the scenes that are dependent on the fact that you are a Pitzer student, and you are our responsibility and we make sure that you have the information,” Carrier said. “And so many things were not getting communicated to our visiting students.”
Because of this, students who participated in the exchange did not receive important updates or essential information about the campus at which they were living, she said, such as emails about roommate disputes, problems in the dorms or mandatory meetings.
Another complication with the exchange was a lack of access to on campus services.
“Students who participated in the exchange expected to be able to access every service that Pitzer offered,” Carrier said. These services, such as parking, mailboxes, campus listservs, printers and computer labs, were not included in the exchange, which covered housing only.
Additionally, the report said, “the pricing structure for housing differs across the campuses, resulting in potentially inequitable charges for assignments.”
The program’s cancellation came as a shock to many 5C
India Whatley SC ’20, who lived at Pitzer College in the Mead dorm this year, said the program was “a really fun part of the consortium.
“These schools don’t exist on their own,” Whatley said. “It gives you a different experience than you would have had at [your home institution].”
Dana Harris CM ’22 was thinking of transferring to another one of the 5Cs, but she said the CMC Dean of Students office suggested the 5C Housing Exchange as an alternative.
“To me, the housing exchange was a sign of hope — I could finally feel at home, and still be academically involved in the college of my dreams,” she said via email.
Harris “was crushed” when she heard the program was cancelled.
“Not only would I have felt much more at home at the 5Cs, but had I made the switch, I would be closer to some of my classes, and be able to make new friends at another campus,” she wrote.
Whatley said the process was “really easy.” Harris agreed, writing that it was “well worth the opportunity to feel at home again.”
Emily Pugh CM ’21 currently lives at Pomona in Oldenborg Hall and is enjoying her experience, but agreed there are some problems with the program.
“When I exchanged with my exchangee, I got access to all the dorms, but none of the study rooms,” she said. “And the person I switched with, he doesn’t get access to anything at CMC. Just his dorm that he’s living in.”
Overall, though, Pugh sees more good than bad.
“It’s given me a unique experience at the 5Cs — one that I wouldn’t have gotten just staying CMC — and I hope they [reinstate] it in the future to give other students that opportunity to shape their experience at the 5Cs,” she said.
Molly Armentrout PZ ’19 sought an exchange at Scripps College for a different reason — she wanted a quiet place to work on her thesis.
“I feel sad about the cancellation because it is a great opportunity for people to live on other campuses and be close to their friends,” she said via email. “Even though the 5Cs are very integrated socially, this program is another opportunity that fosters a greater 5C community.”