Sekerci: Northwestern should improve existing housing before building new residential halls

Burak Sekerci, Columnist

Last Friday, Northwestern announced it will build a new residence hall on Lincoln Street. The building will be the first residence hall built since 2002, and it will be the first step in the 10-year housing master plan administrators decided on last summer.

The plan includes expanding University housing capacity by an astonishing 1,000 beds and improving the residence halls. As The Daily has reported, student feedback played a major role while developing the plan. Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, the assistant vice president for student auxiliary services, said the master plan “lets us know where we need to invest our dollars versus, ‘Are there things we need to upgrade or replace?’”

NU is on the correct path for improving residential life by creating this master plan. It gives the residential services a lead on how they should shape the residential system for the next 10 years according to student and professional feedback. With this, they can easily see which dorms need renovation and which need just small adjustments. The master plan also creates a sense of organization to our school’s architectural composition.

However, I was surprised to see that NU is going to build a new dorm. I believe that this shouldn’t be a move for now but rather later. There are already almost 1,600 beds for students on North Campus, excluding the fraternity houses. Excluding the number of sophomores and juniors who live in fraternity houses, there is enough space for freshmen and upperclassmen who wish to live north of Foster-Walker Complex. There are also many open rooms here and there at different halls that are empty. In my dorm last year, two students had “dingles,” a double room occupied by only one student. In addition to dingles across campus, there are also rooms that aren’t lived in at all, so building a new residential hall is not a step that needs to be immediately taken.

Instead, NU should focus on improving the halls that already exist. Alex Van Atta, then-Associated Student Government executive vice president, told The Daily in May 2013 the quality of the rooms in different halls varies drastically. This should be a wake up call for residential services. NU needs to bring all residence halls and colleges up to the same standard. This would ensure higher trust in the University housing process, and students could expect the same quality regardless of where they live.

Another aspect of the process of improving housing is student responsibility. I’ve seen many instances where the students played major roles in wearing out facilities or damaging them. We always complain about the state of the facilities, but we are equally responsible for their current state. Therefore the student body should also contribute by trying to use the facilities without damaging them.

The housing master plan also focuses on upperclassmen housing. Most of the upperclassmen prefer to live in Kemper Hall. Paul Riel, executive director of residential services, told The Daily that older students “want more privacy and autonomy.” Right now, Kemper offers the best option for the upperclassmen with suite-style living where five to six people can have their own kitchens and bathrooms, allowing students to feel less like they’re living in a dorm. If Northwestern creates more space that upperclassmen would enjoy living in, more upperclassmen could live on campus, and campus involvement would be much higher.

Right now, I’m living off campus, but if I was guaranteed on-campus housing similar to Kemper, I would definitely consider staying on campus. I would be living much closer to my classes and my fraternity house and would likely be more involved. If Northwestern must build a new dorm, it should be one dedicated to upperclassmen living.

As a whole, the NU housing system is on the right track. The 10-year master plan will help the University be more organized in the upcoming years. However, residential services should reevaluate how they are spending their money. Rather than building new residence halls, NU should increase funding for renovations, which is the effective choice to make in the short run.

Burak Sekerci is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].