Pitzer Housing Policy Causes Controversy

Pitzer College students have pushed back against recent changes to Pitzer College’s off-campus housing policy, which limits the numbers of students living off-campus. In heated posts in Pitzer’s Student Talk e-mails and impassioned discussions at Student Senate meetings, students have reacted negatively to the lack of singles, recent changes to the alcohol policy forbidding students to recycle alcohol bottles in the residence halls, and the financial implications of the new policy.

In the past, sophomores and juniors could apply for off-campus housing, and seniors were guaranteed off-campus housing. Starting in the coming academic year, sophomores will be required to live on campus, and juniors and seniors are required to apply if they wish to live off campus.

The discussion surrounding the policy change has brought up a number of issues: the value of student autonomy, student input in Pitzer policy and financial decisions, and the apparent decline of the Pitzer on-campus community.

Jim Marchant, Pitzer Vice President for Student Affairs, spoke at the college’s April 14 student senate meeting. Marchant said that the recent shifts in housing policy are by no means sudden but are a result of a process that began in 2000, which Marchant said was influenced by student involvement.

“I know from the planning process that went on 13 years ago that there’s a lot of value to living on campus in terms of leadership, mentoring, being involved in the community,” Marchant said.

Evan Slovak PZ ’14, a member of Senate, also raised the point at the April 14 meeting that students were involved in the initial process to change the housing policy but that this hasn’t been fully communicated to current students.

“The problem is that now, 13 years later, we’ve been progressing quite well in enacting elements of that plan, so we can actually house more students on campus, but communicating that particular element, I think it’s assumed that the students know,” Slovak said. “But it’s 13 years removed from that.”

Despite the fact that students were initially involved in the decision process behind the policy changes, many students have been pointing out complications with policy changes, including the fact that upperclassmen will not have the same degree of independence that they have had in the past.

Cesar Vargas PZ ’14, a member of Senate, compared the number of singles offered in Pitzer housing to the number of singles offered at the other 5Cs.

Vargas said that at the other schools, “Students that want their own personal space after their first or second year, they can have their own room without jeopardizing their own financial standing. Here, we have that brand-new building, and it’s majority doubles. As a rising senior next year, I don’t really see it like, ‘Oh, I want to live in a double.’”

“I think the fact that we only added 40 new singles in this $500 million building is kind of insane,” senator Nicole Pilar PZ ’14 said at the April 14 meeting.

Marchant responded to complaints about the number of singles by stating that the decision to make the Phase II building mostly doubles was driven by student opinions and the desire to make the building more energy-efficient.

“When we were planning Phase II it was decided not to add more singles because they aren’t as efficient or sustainable as doubles. We would have to go out further into the Outback and go up to a fourth story if we wanted to add more singles,” Marchant said.

Students have pointed out the fact that Pitzer has a less vibrant on-campus social scene than the other schools, one reason why there is a stronger desire among students to live off-campus as they become upperclassmen. Some have pointed to the fact that Pitzer recently changed some of its policies regarding drugs and alcohol. For example, students are now forbidden from recycling alcohol bottles in the residence halls.

“Living on campus means that you’re agreeing with the rules of the college, and when those rules change without major student input, like how students can’t recycle alcohol bottles, and they can’t do things that they could do if they were to live off-campus, that brings the whole sentiment that, maybe I shouldn’t be living here,” Vargas said at the meeting.

“As a de facto result of the previous policy there is a vibrant off-campus social scene,” Pilar said in an interview with TSL. “There’s a lack of free space [on campus]. It becomes more of a dicey situation, especially when you have people of age at 21.”

Sasha Heinen PZ ’15, who is hoping to live in an off-campus house next year, said that she doesn’t think forcing students to live on campus is the right way to improve Pitzer’s social scene.

“I think Pitzer’s taking steps in the wrong way to try to change that by forcing students to live on campus rather than fostering an on-campus community through other means than brute force,” Heinen said.

Another major issue raised by students is the financial implications of the new housing policy. Pilar is concerned that the new policy grants Pitzer too much control over student housing.

“With this policy, Pitzer has enacted a complete monopoly over housing,” Pilar said. “If you live on Pitzer’s campus, you have to be on a meal plan. When you enact a complete monopoly on housing, you’re basically not allowing the price of housing to reach an equilibrium, you can keep raising the price as much as you want.”

Some students blame the policy change on the school’s desire to pay off the debts it incurred from building the new housing. Marchant acknowledged the fact that there is a financial side to the policy, but he gave a different explanation.

“There is a financial motivation, but it has nothing to do with the amount of debt we borrowed; it has to do with the fact that we built these buildings with the implication that they be filled,” Marchant said. “We had 40 or 50 empty beds at the end of this year, and it has an impact on the college.”

Marchant concluded by saying, “I’ve seen a lot of student input, I’ve seen it have an impact, and I think there’s going to be more opportunities for students moving forward to be involved in these decisions.”

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