A new kind of housing: Residential Community to be tested at Elder

Lauren Mogannam

Groundbreaking multi-million dollar renovations to join Elder Hall and Hinman-Lincoln Hall will create the first Northwestern residential community next fall.

Construction will begin Spring Quarter, said William Banis, vice president for student affairs.

“We are looking to establish a pilot program and learn from it,” he said. “It will become a residential college on steroids.”

Eleven students gathered in Hardin Hall Monday afternoon for a presentation on the future of NU student housing led by Banis and Ron Braeutigam, associate provost for undergraduate education.

The renovation ideas for student housing came from a study conducted by the Advisory Committee on Student Housing and consulting firm Biddison Hier, Ltd. The study included internal and external market research, including student surveys, interviews and housing observation of peer sites.

Over the next five years, NU plans to create one residential community a year, Braeutigam said.

The residential communities will either be comprised of a cluster of small buildings or a large building and a small building, Banis said. As of now, the new Elder residential community will be reserved for incoming freshmen, he said.

The University’s 12 residential colleges were used as a model for the residential communities, Braeutigam said.

The communities will include a live-in faculty member, seminar rooms, communal kitchens and student lounges, Banis said. There also will be “hoteling offices” where different departments, like Study Abroad and University Career Services, can offer their services to the residents.

“We want to improve students’ access to faculty and give them more opportunities to engage with them,” Banis said. “They are there to help with educational programming, not to deal with the dark side of campus life.”

Vanessa Gonzalez-Block, a current Elder resident, said she does not like the idea.

“The whole idea of living in the dorm is that it’s all students,” the Weinberg freshman said.Other institutions including Vanderbilt University and Cornell University were used as case studies for the project, but NU will implement the model that works best for the school and its students, Banis said.

“Whatever we create has to be unique to Northwestern,” he said. “We can’t take another model and plop it on Northwestern and assume that it will work.”

According to the study, which concluded in 2008, students primarily want the sense of campus community strengthened, Banis said.

Most students identify themselves as belonging to a certain school within NU, but don’t identify themselves with NU, he said.

“We want to foster a stronger Northwestern community, a Wildcat identity,” he said.

Although Banis said a unified NU community is the goal, he still encourages students to identify with their schools.

“We want to strengthen a Northwestern community without cutting into identifications (students) have with their home schools,” he said. “We want to create a common experience across the colleges.”

Unlike the residential colleges, if the residential communities have a theme, they will be broad so as to encompass students from different schools, Braeutigam said.

“We want to make it so a tuba player can live next to a chemical engineer,” he said. “We want to create a situation where students can share experiences.”

Lillian Cheng, the residential college board president, said she would have loved to live in a residential community if it had been available while she lived on campus.

“It is great,” the Weinberg junior said. “I like the fact that they are looking to eliminate the distinction between the residential hall and residential college and make it one experience.”

After the Elder residential community is completed, Banis said the University hopes to begin developing another one on South Campus for 2011.

“We are not looking at expanding housing,” he said. “We are looking at improving it.”[email protected]