Westminster College eliminated exemption options for first- and second-year students by re-enforcing its two-year residential living policy at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.
Westminster’s policy on required two-year residential living began in 2011, according to Jess Sweitzer, the director of Residence Life. However, there was always a way for students to receive an exemption, whether that be a letter or a simple talk with Residence Life.
This year that all changed.
“We have always enforced the policy,” said Sweitzer in an email. “It is just the criteria for exemption that has changed.”
This criteria changed because Westminster’s administration conducted research and found that students who live on campus are more connected to the college and thrive academically, according to Sweitzer.
It also found students tend to be happier, feel connected to the campus and have a better opportunity to take advantage of more college services due to proximity.
However, the stricter enforcement has brought about concern from students for various reasons — the main reason being cost.
“[The cost] was one of the deciding factors for me in deciding whether or not if I was going to live off campus outside of home or live on campus,” said Katie Valdez, a junior justice studies major who has never lived on campus. “Had it been more affordable that would have made a difference in my decision-making process. It probably would have been beneficial for me in the long run with social stuff.”
Valdez said she thought she missed out on a lot because she didn’t live on campus: from the instant friend group made with your first-year roommates to not stressing about getting to class on time.
“It took me a lot longer than people who did live on campus to find that community,” she said. “I do regret that. It would have been nice to have that in the beginning. I found myself just going to class and going home.”
Recognizing the cost of living on campus, Westminster began offering residential scholarships for this time this year, in an effort to make it more accessible.
“Students were selected from those who applied for housing by a certain date,” Sweitzer said. “The committee made decisions based on those with the greatest need.”
This enforcement of two-year residential living is unique among Utah colleges. The University of Utah, Utah State University and Brigham Young University don’t require on-campus living at all, according to each of their Offices of Residential Life.
However, other liberal arts colleges in the West do require either two or three years of on-campus living, like Gonzaga University and Reed College.
While some Westminster students still dread their second year of residential living, others tolerate it. For senior Maia Parisot the second year made a positive impact.
“I didn’t really want to live on campus for two years but in retrospect, I am really glad I did,” Parisot said. “I wasn’t fully ready to have to deal with managing monthly bills and dealing with a landlord.”
Parisot said she was extremely grateful for her on-campus living experience and that her parents were able to support its cost.
“Living on campus was an amazing experience for me,” she said. “The environment of the dorms, especially freshman year, is very social and fun. [My roommates and I] made great friends with people on our floor and we pretty much had an open door policy. We would do homework together, have movie nights and go out on adventures in big groups. That’s not something that happens when you and your friends live in different parts of Salt Lake.”
Being the “poster story” for Westminster, Parisot had a better campus living experience than some. For first-year Carleson Hall resident Quinn Winter, living on campus was a bit more complicated.
“I’ve found it difficult finding housing that meets all of my needs as a disabled, gender non-conforming student,” Winter said. “There is a floor that is gender-neutral in Carleson that I am on, which is really nice. It’s accessible in some ways but not in others in terms of all my medical needs.”
Winter said they understand the difficulty in considering overlapping identities and providing everything someone needs when also providing housing for so many people.
“I don’t want to sit here and say, ‘Make everything accessible,’” said Winter. “[Westminster doesn’t] need to do that. But consider overlapping identities. Just try to make it where someone like me that needs an accessible building, an accessible dorm, an accessible bathroom and a gender-neutral floor that I can have all of those things and not have to sacrifice one of those things.”
Westminster’s policy comes from outside research done by administration, and has proven to be beneficial for students in practice.
However, some students say there are still areas that need to be improved — like offering more scholarships or providing lower-cost living options to considering overlapping identities. Students like Winter and Valdez said the school still has some room to improve before it meets all of their needs.
Though I enjoyed the room I was in, I hated on campus housing. I was in The Draw, which is nice…but a loooong walk. I (a Theatre Major at the time) also got roomed with two Jocks and a Computer Science Major. Jocks and Theatre people don’t gel….and we didn’t. If I had been paired with students who were taking similar majors (Performing Arts of some kind) the living could have been more tolerable. Also, the price to be in the dorms was crazy high. As a transfer student, I really could have used more of a subsidy on the housing.
I lived on campus my first year in Behnken, which wasn’t terrible, but I don’t understand the “instant friend group” or sense of community belonging argument (although maybe it was because I wasn’t in a traditional style dorm). I went to class, I went home. My roommates and I were not really friends then and we don’t talk now (sophomore year). I was going through a lot by the time my first year ended, and if my housing exemption wasn’t accepted I would have dropped out. I didn’t have any friends to even consider rooming with and it felt like a waste of money when my parents live only 20 min away from campus. Now I go to class, I go home, but I’m happy.