Ajith: Off-campus apartment help not up to par

Ani Ajith

During the past 19 years, I’ve moved into 15 apartments and houses-all with my globetrotting family (my dad’s in the oil industry). This past week, I began my own count with a new place. I’m proud to call a great two-bedroom apartment in downtown Evanston my new home, especially since I went through hell to get it.

I never helped my parents negotiate for any of those 15 homes, so I had no clue what a broker did, let alone whether I had to pay the broker myself. I didn’t know what was a good rental price for a decent Evanston apartment,

or how much I could bargain for the utilities. Actually, I had no idea how to start searching for apartments. My parents had no experience with leasing in Chicagoland and couldn’t help very much. Google, too, had its limits.

Of course, my university was even less helpful than Google.

Let’s be clear: I’m not speaking as a whining liberal expecting the university to find an apartment for him.

I’m speaking as a tuition-paying student wondering why 40 percent of his fellow students do not have the level of support and resources at their disposal that students living on campus do.

I’m speaking as a sophomore who loved his Residential College living experience, but was forced to choose between better community and better living conditions.

I’m speaking as an off-campus resident apprehensive about being isolated from the Northwestern living and learning community, because the university does so little to keep us from feeling like members of a commuter school.

For starters, there’s the lack of a full-fledged office devoted to off-campus living.

Without even basic, full-time staff and resources dedicated to helping students moving and living off campus, we cannot have a reasonable conversation about the lack of community west of Sheridan.

So maybe we should review the current level of university support for off-campus students, and then go from there.

Over the summer, the Living Off-campus website was finally overhauled. It’s now slightly closer-in content and design-to the Undergraduate Admissions office website (which is, as you can imagine, really slick) than it is to, say, a blog page from 2004. Kudos to dean of students Burgwell Howard for moving forward on that-but there’s still a lot of work to do. A static web page that mostly provides bare-bones information does little to cultivate better campus-city relations and off-campus student involvement, let alone provide a human face to the university’s efforts to help nearly half the undergraduate population.

The closest NU comes to a top-level official dedicated to off-campus issues is Betsi Burns, the associate dean of students. Only part of her responsibilities focus on off -campus living, and the Living Off-campus site lists Burns and her administrative assistant as the only staff members supporting more than 3,000 students.

Of course, there is no off-campus, university-owned housing available to undergraduates, unlike at most of our peer institutions, including Washington University and UCLA. President Schapiro’s vision of the university converting the offices along Sheridan for that very purpose seems to be years away, if at all possible.

What I hope isn’t years away is a fully staffed office dedicated to assisting students with the stressful, time-intensive process of searching for off-campus residences. Of course, this office should also be devoted to ensuring those students stay included and involved in the NU community.

Ani Ajith is a Weinberg sophomore.

He can be reached at [email protected]