Last week I spoke about seeking out places on and around campus that provide the tranquility you might be seeking. This week, I’d like to focus on your living community. I am going beyond the extent of the draw guide published by The Daily earlier this month in order to give you a picture of how housing has been evolving on campus and why you might consider going off. I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend, Dan Kozlowski ’14, for the research that he did that contributed to this article.
Of structures on campus currently used to house undergraduates, the oldest are Mars, Phi Sig, Muwekmah, Hammarskjöld and Theta Chi, constructed in 1896. The University also used the Encina Commons for housing in the early days but began expanding to Toyon (1923), Lagunita (1930s), and Stern and Wilbur (1948), among others. There was a huge building boom in the 1960s, when Stanford added the lake houses (1963-65), fraternities such as KA and SAE (1965), and all of the Cowell Cluster houses (1967). All of the Governor’s Corner houses were added in 1982, and Manzanita/Kimball in 1991. After that, though, no new undergraduate housing has been constructed. For 22 years.
Crothers was converted to undergraduate housing within the past decade (I was unable, yet, to find out exactly when), but the next longest drought of undergraduate housing construction was 13 years long, between the construction of Lagunita in the 30s and Crothers in the 40s.
On the other hand, the University has added quite a bit of housing for graduate students since the early 90s. Lyman went up in 1997, with capacity for 224 students, EV Studios opened in 2000 and 2003 with capacity for 834 students, and the infamously nice Munger, named for its benefactor Chuck “Heavy T” Munger, was still being constructed when I was a freshman. Its official capacity is not provided by Stanford Housing on their website, but I speculate that it is well over one thousand, given the number of floors and the floor plans.
Before I reflect on what this means for housing on campus, allow me to construct a little soapbox of ethos on which to stand. I have worked with Land Buildings and Real Estate (LBRE), project managers like Laura Goldstein and campus architect Dave Lennox on a couple of projects and have found them to be fantastic people; Goldstein was always particularly helpful. They artfully handle complex demands from the Board of Trustees and onerous restrictions from Santa Clara County when building new projects. The latest General Use Permit (GUP) approval process was a long, hard fight, and restrictions on what the University can build are heavy and very expensive to change.
Beyond the fact that the University avoided complying with requirements under the GUP (where are the two nature trails that actually serve the community?), though, the plan itself was negligent with regards to undergraduate housing. In a letter from October 25, 2000 to alumni and friends, President Hennessy touted the fact that “Over half of all the construction in Stanford’s proposal will be much-needed housing.” Looking deeper, though, the final agreement calls for “2000 net new student housing units,” and in the document itself, there is a table breaking down the proposed distribution of residential development. What does it say about undergraduate housing? The plan only called for the university to add 125 new units on Mayfield Avenue/The Row, mostly achieved through renovations, and 100 new units in Manzanita.
At the same time, the full-time undergraduate population (those guaranteed on-campus housing) has jumped from 6342 in 2000-01 to 7003 in 2012-13. The yield rate has indeed spiked in the last few years, with the 2009-10 to 2010-11 transition reflecting that trend most accurately. Yet the primary coping mechanisms of the University have been to increase the number of undergraduate students placed in each room, to the point where not every staff member in Durand gets a single or to ship students out to Oak Creek, where over 200 undergraduates lived this fall.
Part of this plays into the issue of affordable housing (for people who are not students, post-doctoral fellows or medical residents), which I do not have space to cover here, but one thing is clear: the University is not committed to providing strong living communities, by my standard, for much of its undergraduate population.
Yet here is where I differ from most of the people covering this issue this year. The cold truth is, the University has every legal right and every financial imperative, no matter how perverse, to streamline and stack its undergraduate housing units like monastery cells. Stanford mostly constructs buildings that house lucrative research facilities. Case in point: engineering quad.
Your contribution to the University’s coffers, even as a fantastically affluent alum (or one who drops out of Stanford’s precious housing early to run a tech startup), is a pittance, per square foot of occupied space, compared to research. That’s why Row houses are increasingly mechanical and nobody’s building better ones where community actually flourishes.
I see this as an opportunity, though, for students to make a statement. We complain about Housing infantilizing us, but the dominant narrative has been that the University has an obligation to provide the kind of living community that we want. That is the most naïve and entitled view I’ve ever heard.
Here’s the solution: look off campus. There is enormous inertia preventing it: most of your friends and their parties stay on campus all four years, housing in Palo Alto is expensive and the commute is hard when you’re tired in the morning. But nothing will change if you just accept what Stanford hands you. Hit ‘em where it hurts: their wallet.
A basic breakdown of the off-campus alternative: this summer I paid $1800 per month (all expenses) for a fantastic apartment with my own room and bathroom, a ten-minute car ride from campus. Room and board for the 2013-14 year are $13,166, which, divided over 30 weeks is $1755. This does not include personal expenses, which the University estimates at $2,400 per year (hahaha, I’m dying with laughter).
Community is not handed to you. You must build it. Friends on staff, even in desirable Row houses where the staff go out of their way to organize great events, have lamented to that how their residents don’t participate enough in making their house a home. Here’s my challenge for the week: retract your housing application, absorb the withdrawal fee and create your own community off campus next year.
Stats on number of singles/two-room doubles by house can be found on R&DE’s website listed as “Undergraduate Housing Residence Chart.” Contact Taylor at email@example.com.