Gabriel Smith, Campus Carrier asst. arts & living editor
Many at Berry are familiar with the arguments in favor of having students live on the campuses of their colleges and universities. Students living in on-campus residence halls have easier access to academic, social and extracurricular resources, for example. University administrators frequently speak of creating a ‘residential community,’ or a common public space where students will inevitably interact with their peers and begin feeling a sense of connection, simply by virtue of spending so much time there. However, students should be able to choose whether they want to participate in said residential community.
After my first year at Berry, I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of students learning to live in a communal space. Sharing a room with someone you may have never met before develops critical skills of negotiation and accommodation that can be applied in nearly any context, and may even lead to new, long-lasting friendships. At present, however, students who happen to live within 40 miles of campus may not experience the full-scale residential community that constitutes such a critical component of the Berry education.
The school describes itself as a four-year residential liberal arts college, and explains that students are expected to live on-campus all four years. Yet there are some exceptions to this rule: those who are married, for instance, and those who live with their family within 40 miles of campus, are exempt from the college’s residency requirement. If I were eligible to live off-campus under these requirements during my first year, I would’ve applied in a heartbeat and would’ve missed out because of it.
In my opinion, those who live off-campus are not as connected to Berry’s student life as those who live on-campus. Living in Rome is not a substitute for living at Berry (as the authors of the residence policy surely could’ve told you).
I have thoroughly experienced the value of character-building that living in a residential hall can provide, but there is some scholarly debate surrounding the necessity of living on a college campus for the full four years. According to Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice in 2018, on campus residency may cause some improvements in student engagement but cannot be linked to long term improvements in students’ “learning and growth in cocurricular areas.” Further, in 2010 Pedro de Araujo and James Murray found that improvements in academic performance associated with residential experiences continue even after students begin living off-campus. This means that the benefits students can receive from living on campus can be gained in a couple years and maintained if a student moves off campus for other years of college. With this in mind, mandatory residential requirements may not be necessary to perpetuate the beneficial aspects students receive from living on campus.
Other institutions have differing residency requirements. At Emory University, all undergraduates must live on campus their freshman and sophomore years and may live off-campus without restriction beginning their third year. Students at Yale may also live off-campus beginning their third year, and Columbia University students are only required to live on-campus their first year.
Off-campus housing is a given at virtually all state universities. Even elite, nationally ranked dedicated liberal arts colleges like Amherst College typically permit off-campus housing for their general student population. Berry should realize that if there is true value in the four-year on campus experience, students will elect that option; requiring it for some students and not for others only serves to cheapen the Berry education by placing a wedge between local and non-local students and by keeping students from fully engaging with the community in which they go to college. For these reasons, Berry should adapt their residency policy to allow students to live off-campus during the latter years of their time at the college, if they wish.