The benefits of making off-campus housing available to WC students

By Megan Loock

Elm Staff Writer

When I entered college, I imagined that dorm life would only be temporary. I imagined myself in my junior and senior years attending school while living in an off-campus house, where I could slide down a staircase banister like Amy did in “Pitch Perfect 2.”

As a second-semester junior who partakes in sorority life, I was looking forward to leasing my first off-campus apartment with some of my sisters, allowing me to become fully independent for the first time in my life. 

The benefits of off-campus housing are numerous. However, if not reversed, the current Washington College residential policy will nullify these benefits.

According to the 2020-2021 Housing Agreement form, WC is now a four-year residential college, meaning that even though some exemptions will be given to students in good academic and judicial standing, Residential Life “[does] not anticipate many slots [will be] allotted for exemption approvals.”

Before this change, all juniors and seniors who possessed a 2.5 GPA or higher and were in “good social standing with the school” were able to obtain a housing exemption from Residential Life, according to the WC website on July 3, 2020.

This change in housing model was met with backlash from students, according to The Elm Encouraging students to live on-campus will not provide students with the necessary skills needed after graduation.

Senior Leah Duff is currently living off-campus on exemption. She received a residential housing exemption in June 2020 when the old policy was still in place. 

“It’s very convenient to have parking for my car that’s right by the house,” Duff said. 

Duff received her exemption due to medical reasons. 

“The on-campus kitchens are such a … dismal place and I have dietary needs that weren’t met,” Duff said. “Not having to worry about the school feeding me poorly because it’s my own job is a relief.”

Senior Megan Walsh is currently living off-campus as well, but instead of leasing her own apartment, she is residing at home with her parents. 

“It’s free to live at home,” Walsh said. 

In addition to citing financial concerns as a motive for staying home, Walsh said she was concerned with the school’s ability to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“That was my biggest thing about not being on campus,” she said. “I felt like it would kinda be inevitable that a lot of people would get it.” 

This new housing policy will become implausible next school year, anticipating that campus is unable to support placing every on-campus student in a single room. Post-pandemic life is still uncertain, which raises concerns about how the school will be able to handle a COVID-19 outbreak if it occurs in a high-density housing model.

Regardless, both Walsh and Duff agree that living off-campus provides a level of freedom that dorm life at WC does not. 

“You’re not going to be locked down with thirty minutes notice, so if something happens you can just go home,” Walsh said.

“I think it’s also a necessary thing for older students to…get out from under the wing from on-campus housing because there are a lot of life skills that it takes to live in a household outside of your parents’ household that don’t get taught to us nowadays,” she said.

She’s right — college is a four-year practice for adulthood, where students are able to achieve a certain level of independence before making it on their own. But after graduation, students are thrust into a world that requires them to learn how to balance rent deadlines, an insatiable job market, and financial management — all aspects of true independence in the “real world.”  

“Housing itself in America is a skill,” Duff said.

These life skills cannot be taught in a classroom. They must be learned through experience.

WC’s current housing policy not only hurts students who are eager to learn these skills, but also the greater Chestertown community. By limiting opportunities for students to live off-campus, WC is compromising the economic environment that Chestertown has come to rely on, taking away income from landlords and small business owners.

According to the school’s website, as of July 3, 2020, 85% of the school’s undergraduate population lived on campus. This means that 15% of WC’s undergraduate population was living off-campus in Chestertown or in other nearby locations.

This is not an insignificant percentage. Chestertown’s small businesses gain much of their revenue from WC students. This revenue may decrease if students are living on-campus, where they get what they need from the dining hall and bookstore rather than local businesses that create the foundation for the Chestertown experience. These incomes may lessen into one that a small town cannot survive on forever — especially during a pandemic. 

Allowing students to live off-campus is a win-win for both WC students and the greater Chestertown community, offering the latter economic support and the former important life skills early that will benefit them for a lifetime.

Many WC students wish to live off-campus at some point in their college careers in order to learn independence.Photo by Mark Cooley.

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