October 16 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 26  

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Making sure Housing doesn't fall on its face

Ad Nauseam
Anton Vidgen

News Editor

The university rankings released yesterday in The Globe and Mail were perhaps flawed but nonetheless insightful. Students who responded to the online survey said Western was tops when it came to providing a quality on-campus living environment and most students that have lived in residence would certainly agree.

With the picture so seemingly rosy, it’s rather easy to rest on our laurels and be comfortable with Housing’s strategic direction. But this belies a complacent climate, one which students and staff alike should strive to avoid in order to maintain and excel in our status as Canada’s premier residential university.

So where do we go from here if here is where we aimed to be?

The relationship between Housing and Ancillary Services — the body in charge of residence life — and other groups and individuals on campus is often perceived as complex, difficult and stodgy. To Housing’s credit, they often have to deal with thorny students who see litigation as an automatic recourse for anything and everything. But fighting fire with more fire is a counter-productive approach at best and more likely detrimental to Housing’s reputation.

As a current residence advisor, I observed Housing scrambling this summer to find students to fill vacated residence staff positions, with some spots even being filled during August’s training period. Whether this was a result of students’ fears of dealing with the double cohort crowd or students detesting their previous year in residence is not the main issue.

Housing’s inability to attract and retain interested students — both sophs and rez staff — is indicative of the overall deficiency of the department to create an enjoyable and supportive environment, especially for upper-year students.

Housing needs to start by being more “in-touch” and realistic in appearance. Generic, feel-good statements have their place, but empowering and encouraging residence staff to speak their mind is always well-received by residents, as they will reciprocate in kind. Just ask my residents of 6 South in Essex Hall.

Though Housing maintains tight organization over most of its operations, it often falls flat on its face when branching out into the community, as witnessed in past attempts to bring in clubs or other outside groups. Also, many groups still prefer working the residence system through illegal means (i.e. flyering rooms at off-times). In both cases, dialogue needs to start to find a common solution.

Upper-year students need to feel welcome and not alienated. An upper-year or graduate student residence should be seriously considered and such students should be able to envision what it might look like through an open process.

Lastly, an anonymous survey should be distributed to current and past residents asking them where Housing screwed up and where it did good. Listen to them, act on their concerns and then look for another first place in next year’s university residence rankings.



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