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Do we all really need RFs?: A different proposal

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Last January, a Stanford Daily article, “Rising housing costs lead to increase of RFs with children,” highlighted an emerging trend among Resident Fellows (RFs) at Stanford — that they bring their young children with them to live in the dorms as families. According to the article, in 2013 (the year with the latest available data), there were 71 RF children on Stanford’s campus.

Of course, as a general matter, children are a joy to be with, but the influx of young children into college dorms comes with new responsibilities for both RFs and the dorms’ residents. Residents must curb their language and boisterousness, as well as be cautious about openly discussing many topics in the dorm. Students must also use extra caution when socializing in the dorm. Even if RFs don’t have young children, their presence forces students to exercise extra caution for a host of other reasons, including noise restrictions and reduced liberty to choose dorm events, from dorm storm to more innocuous activities like ski trip.

Many Stanford students complain that their RFs have felt more like a social burden than a resource for their educational advancement. This attitude is especially prevalent when students discuss their freshman dorms. Does it have to be this way?

For some students, living among older adults and young children in college is a welcome experience. But for others, it is not.

The in loco parentis style of RF-ing common in many freshman dorms is outdated. Freshmen (as much as we like to joke that they are not) are legal adults who are capable of looking after themselves, especially with a full support staff of RAs, PHEs and RCCs at their disposal. Much like the Honor Code, which places the impetus for responsible behavior in academic affairs on students, students should also be responsible for their personal lives. A consistent and appropriate continuation of the Honor Code would be that students, even freshmen, have the option of living with RFs, but are not forced to do so.

Although there are many reasons why RFs are a part of most dormitories, they often act more as a police force than as helpful resources of academic wisdom. Students don’t necessarily come to college with the expectation of or desire to live among older adults and young children, and forcing them to do so does them, and potentially the RF families, a disservice.

The Resident Fellow position is quite an attractive one. RFs are compensated with room and board, which varies by individual circumstance (single, family, etc.), but generally includes “free rent, free dining, free utility coverage, daycare and access to the Palo Alto public school system, not to mention the money saved by avoiding long commutes made by faculty living in surrounding areas like Mountain View, Menlo Park or Redwood City.” Additionally, the dollar value of room and board is not subject to income or social security taxes. Are these programs helping the students as much as the RFs?

The position is set up to attract families. Parents are right to be hyper-vigilant about their child’s well-being, but often that comes at the expense of the residents’ well-being. One student we spoke with, who chose to remain anonymous, used profanities while (unknowingly) in the vicinity of an RF and his young children and was subsequently forced to move out and banned from that part of campus. The student, seven months later, is still banned. Another student told us that her experience “felt like retrogression in the way that the RFs treated us. We were treated more like children. One of the RFs kind of put down drinking and going out and made it seem like people who did that were acting stupid and unsafe.” In our experience, especially when we were freshmen, this sentiment is widespread.

We propose an alternate system where freshmen, as well as non-freshmen, can opt-out of living with RFs. Non-freshmen can already do this by drawing into Suites or the Row (for example), but freshmen cannot. Stanford should allocate a certain amount of freshman housing to be without RFs in order to allow students to experience their first year of college without having to worry about whether they are acting in a way that the RFs deem appropriate for themselves or their children.

RFs can be profoundly valuable resources for Stanford students, but they must have realistic expectations. The dorm is often the most remembered marketplace of ideas, abuzz with energy and unvarnished discussion at all hours, and that should not be chilled by the need to shield young children and protect a family lifestyle. For some students then, living with RFs and their children is an odd and inhibiting burden. Giving students (especially freshmen) the option of living in dorms without RFs provides them with an opportunity to experience dormitory life and their newfound independence without having to worry about disturbing the RFs and their families.

Contact Claire Zabel at czabel ‘at’ stanford.edu and Joseph (Joey) Zabel at joezabel ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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