Editor in Chief
On Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 7:00 p.m., an information session was held about proposed changes to on-campus service houses with representatives from service houses as well as Director of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement Nate Addington, Director of Residence Life Nathan Fein and Housing Coordinator Carly Jones. The meeting served as a Strategic Planning update and a discussion about the future of service houses. On campus, there are currently 18 service houses, which hold a total of around 200 students, according to Addington. There were 10 houses who didn’t send representatives to the meeting.
One of the biggest changes suggested at the meeting was to change the application process for the houses. The proposed change states that students would have to apply to live in service houses on an individual level instead of multiple students applying as a group. “If you are a new applicant, there is a change. It is not that students would apply individually,” Fein stated. “The change that was proposed was instead of large groups applying to live together you could apply to live in the space as either an individual or a roommate pairing.”
According to Addington, there are several reasons for this potential change. “The first is about equity,” Addington stated. “Right now, the applications process calls for people to apply as a whole group. So, if I am [a] student who wants to enjoy the benefits of a learning/living community but I’m not a member of that specific group of students who applied, or I’m not sure how to access that community partner for some reason, then there is an unjust barrier preventing me from participating. We want to make sure that anyone who has a desire to participate, regardless of background, identity or access to means, has the opportunity.”
Addington and Fein are also planning the steps moving forward if the College decides to eliminate house living. The College is about to start their master planning process, which will include considering all the physical structures and buildings on campus and deciding what to do with them in future years. “As part of that process the College will be making decisions as to both renovation and new construction to meet the needs of our students,” Fein said. “This may mean that we take more houses offline. At this point, it is too early to say if we are getting rid of all houses.”
No matter what the College decides about the houses, however, Addington and Fein are committed to continuing meaningful work within the Wooster community. “Nathan Fein and I have consistently said we want to make sure of two things: 1. That the work our students do with our community partners could continue without the physical house,” Addington said. “Everything in this world [is] temporary, especially in Ohio with our unpredictable weather. And so, the systems we have in place need to provide for continuity regardless of physical location. 2. That if the College would think about building structures that would replace the houses, that we would work to build structures that fulfill the spirit of what our current houses provide and students are excited about.”
In achieving these goals, Fein emphasized the importance of student feedback. “We want to make sure that the changes that we are invest- ing in our physical spaces in ways that meet the needs of our community,” Fein stated. “As we move through the process we will need students to provide their voice to the process. The more input we get the better we can serve the needs of our students.”
A common worry among students is that if there are no houses, there won’t be a shared private space for students to gather and hang out in social settings. Fein assured the audience that the College was taking this into consideration when thinking about future living situations.“Armington is great; Armington is not bumping,” Fein stated at the meeting. “We will make sure that we are being mindful of providing spaces where students can still have private gatherings that allow them to build community.”
Mia Stevens ’20 lives in the Community Breakfast House (Corner House) and is worried about the potential to eliminate houses from campus. “I am concerned about the transition away from houses that may happen in five to 10 years,” Stevens stated. “I don’t think that the same community can be created in an apartment/suite/town house setting.” Other changes to service houses include the interview process, a well as the decision to add no new community partners during the 2020-21 academic year. “New applicants will not interview with a panel of professional staff from Residence Life and representatives from Wooster Volunteer Network, which was both professional staff and students,” Fein stated. “They will now interview with a member of the non-profit organization they wish to volunteer with. This allows both the student and the organization make sure it will be successful for both.”
Fein assured that groups already living in service houses that are in good standing with the community organization and the College will not have to interview with their organization. Additionally, the change would help build a “reciprocal relationship” with community partners.
“There are power dynamics at play when the College asks a small nonprofit to take on a program of this size,” Addington stated. “We want our partners to know we view them as co-educators in this process, and so we are suggesting that we give them the central voice in who gets to work with them and in how many students that they can realistically accommodate.”
Some students in service houses see this change as problematic for the community partners.
“I don’t think that individuals should interview directly to the community partner because they have already limited time and I do not think adding more to their plate is a fair thing, especially if its individual interviews with students,” Stevens said.
Before moving forward, Addington and Fein are waiting to hear feedback from service houses.