March 01, 2013 by Op-Ed
I, like many other freshmen, have been bombarded with housing-related emails for the past few weeks. Each email expressed that my housing deposit and options were due soon and that I should deal with this quickly. Had I not avoided this task for so long, I suppose I would not have received so many emails.
I was procrastinating for a reason, though: I think the two-year residency program is stupid. I’m not just ranting; I am demanding this policy be repealed. Requiring students to live in Drexel housing for their first year is one thing, but applying a similar policy for the second year is ridiculous. Not only does this policy financially burden students, but it also contributes to overcrowding in housing, lack of independence, unnecessary construction and gentrification.
I don’t know if President Fry realizes that West Philly isn’t his personal game of “The Sims” — judging by his actions, I gather he does not. While construction that is needed and beneficial to our education is a step forward, bulldozing to accommodate unnecessary and arbitrary wishes is a triple step backward. Chestnut Street has already been torn apart to provide more student housing, and the Frederic O. Hess laboratories are purportedly next in Fry’s “Bob the Builder” escapades.
Drexel housing is beyond capacity, and rather than attempting to remedy this, Fry simply seems to be placing a bandage over a situation equivalent to a large stab wound. Even though lounges have been converted to rooms and double-occupancy spaces have been transformed into triple-occupancy rooms, Fry still appears to think it is wise to require sophomores to live in campus housing. Rather than being able to open up some or all of housing traditionally restricted to upperclassmen, the two-year residency program will require more sophomores to populate these areas and thus contribute to housing overflow.
One of the greatest appeals of attending college is independence and freedom, specifically the kind that comes with living on one’s own. Residence halls provide this freedom partially but not in its entirety. With residence halls, there are still individuals occasionally monitoring students, and independence is limited. Requiring sophomores to live in Drexel housing, Drexel-affiliated housing or Drexel-approved housing doesn’t exactly allow for the independence of choosing a first property. Shouldering the responsibilities that come with leasing a property is an integral part of maturing into adulthood, and students are usually better off experiencing it earlier rather than later.
For Drexel students, selecting an off-campus place to live prior to this year generally occurred during freshman year, at times with parental guidance, allowing for a safe crash course in real estate. This option, while not totally eliminated by the residency program, is virtually eradicated. In order to live in an off-campus apartment, students must either apply for an exemption from the program (which is only rarely granted) or apply for the property to be approved by Drexel. The latter choice presents difficulties for students, as it does not guarantee approval, meaning that students will not know whether to sign on for the lease until Drexel makes a decision, by which time the property may already be off the market. Essentially, the residency program delays the learning and growth experienced when choosing an independent house.
Anyone near Drexel’s campus is immediately aware of the extensive construction taking place, including a new business center and a new Drexel-affiliated housing location. Although the construction of the new business building is somewhat understandable, the new housing location is a product of campus overflow that will be exacerbated by the two-year residency program. Additionally, the Hess labs are likely to be demolished in favor of Drexel housing. The labs, though not enormously important to every student, are a huge part of some students’ academic lives, as a previous Triangle article noted. Senior projects, engineering research and a host of other miscellaneous activities are conducted here, making it a building of vital significance to its users.
DeDe Stockton, a high school senior who currently takes a class at Drexel and is considering attending Drexel full time in the fall, commented, “It really makes me wonder about Drexel’s ethics and intelligence and what they might do next if they’re already uprooting and have uprooted not just their own community but the communities around them, too. … Also, even though I could commute, you have to be in a 10-mile radius to do that. … We’re from 20 minutes away — if [Interstate 76] wasn’t always backed up — a 30-minute local train ride, or 20 miles away. I can get here nearly 30 minutes to an hour quicker than I could to West Chester University, yet [West Chester] would let me commute, but not Drexel. I really like Drexel, but it’s as if they just try to inconvenience you.”
In a previous Triangle article, I discussed the negative impacts of gentrification in West Philly and Drexel’s role in this — a role exacerbated by the two-year residency program. Rather than allow sophomore students to choose their own places off campus without Drexel’s involvement, Drexel seems to be working to make this virtually a non-option. This may not seem that significant for surrounding communities, but allow me to explain. When Drexel lists a property as approved on the housing website, students who wish to live off campus but do not feel like going through the approval process will generally select one of these, thus eliminating them from the overall housing market. As students eventually select most of these properties, more approved properties will need to be added. If sophomores were able to choose where they live, there would be no unofficial “students only” property list restricting other buyers.
As local resident Marcus Thurell commented, “See, I love the students, don’t get me wrong. … But Drexel, they can’t seem to get it that there are actually people who are living here, who been living here and who want to keep living here — maybe have no choice but to keep living here. This is my home. You can make it yours, too, but I want to be able to stay, too, you know? The construction gets to me too. … [If Drexel pushes further into West Philly,] where am I gonna go? … We’re basically being told, ‘Get out or eventually you’ll be forced to leave,’ what with the costs rising ‘cause of all these people fixing up houses. …We’re being forced farther and farther by these schools, these people, this whole University City construct.”
The residency program does provide the option of Drexel-approved housing, in which the student may select either an already approved housing location or elect to have a house approved by submitting necessary paperwork, thereby allowing the student to live off campus. While this is certainly a helpful provision in the policy, there should be no need for such a choice, as the program itself is a disaster. As the requirements stand, this alternative allows at least some hope for students wishing to live off campus.
So, to President Fry and others responsible for this policy: We are big girls and boys; we can choose our own houses, thank you. Isn’t it enough that the tuition is through the roof and you nickel and dime us for every little thing? Now you’re forcing us to choose your housing even though it’s breaking our banks? We are college students, after all, and even those who are supported by their parents will tell you that their parents aren’t exactly thrilled about the costs of being a Drexel student. Ultimately, no one can really afford to pay more tuition because of construction. Trying to offset that by requiring us to live in Drexel housing is not solving the problem either; it is creating more problems. Drexel truly needs to examine the best solutions for students, not just for the appearance of the University or the interests of its leaders.
Erin DiPiano is a freshman communications major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org