After months of speculation and waiting, last week saw the release of the ResX task force’s long-anticipated report on the future of residential life at Stanford. Many students’ first reactions were ones of uncertainty, if not outright confusion; the report itself was a lumbering 104 pages, dense with acronyms, committees and carefully worded university-speak. Simply wading through it all — the noise, the bureaucratic posturing and the report’s sheer breadth — is a challenge and much remains uncertain. It leaves as many new questions as answers.
Nonetheless, it does contain certain sentiments that are worth applauding. If nothing else, the report does demonstrably represent a genuine desire by the University to fix perceived issues with campus living. All will agree that attempts to build community, keep together freshman-year friend groups and improve the Stanford housing experience are indeed noble endeavors. Whether or not neighborhoods are the best way to do this, however, is yet to be truly understood, and the basis of that misunderstanding lies in the ambiguities and unanswered questions that the ResX report left in its wake. To that end, The Daily’s Editorial Board has compiled a list of questions that we have for ResX. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect every detail of the plan to be already hashed out at this early stage. However, it is our belief that basic clarifications on many of the report’s more vague sections are essential before making an informed judgment on the overall viability of the ResX plan.
A. Our most pressing concerns:
- Fundamentally, why did Provost Drell’s charge to the Task Force include the “neighborhood concept” to begin with?
- What modern empirical evidence informed the decision to pursue this residential model? Most of the studies cited in the ResX report are from the 1950s-70s, with just one from 2012.
- Allusions are made throughout the report to a “penalty” for switching neighborhoods — what exactly will that penalty be? Who will determine its exact form? Also, why assess a penalty at all?
- Why is there no community comment period between the ResX report’s release and when must it be approved by the Board of Trustees, especially given the widespread student shock that registered upon the report’s release?
- The ResX report calls for the establishment of 10 to 14 neighborhoods, each replete with a community commons, central dining area and food service, a place to pick up package deliveries and noticeably more green space than currently exists on Stanford’s campus. How does the University intend to facilitate this land expansion under the General Use Permit (GUP), and to get the County to agree to such terms?
B. Issues concerning graduate students
- Even though ResX’s charge was directed toward undergrads, the proposed residential changes inevitably affect graduate students as well. Why were there no graduate students on the Task Force?
- How will the current graduate housing neighborhood under construction be incorporated into the neighborhood system, given its physical isolation from the rest of campus?
- What exactly will dining accessibility look like for grad students under this plan?
- Will the only grad students who receive support to eat in the same dining halls as undergrads be those grads who become employees for particular neighborhoods?
C. Themed housing
- How will the University seek to preserve successful ethnic-themed dorms while proposing constant theme turnover within University Theme Houses (UTHs)?
- What exactly does it mean that neighborhoods will be designated “based on existing communities”? Which communities will be preserved? Who decides?
- What support will the University provide to students who want to change neighborhoods in general, and for students who want to switch into a specific UTH or Neighborhood Theme House (NTH)?
- Why will co-ops and self-ops be designated as “non-theme neighborhood assets” as opposed to UTHs, given that these residences are currently strongly united by informal but highly individual themes?
D. Greek Life
- Will Greek houses be assigned to a neighborhood?
- If students can only live in themed houses for one year, will this also apply to Greek houses? If so, how will the Greek houses manage to fill their minimum occupancy requirements?
- Does the administration plan on honoring their commitment to keeping 10 Greek houses under the new neighborhoods system?
- How much authority will the RFs placed in neighborhoods alongside housed Greek organizations have over internal decisions made in those Greek houses?
E. Life in Neighborhoods
- How will rules about moving neighborhoods apply to staff? Will RA+ staff be selected from their own neighborhoods, or will they be allowed to switch without penalty? Will students be allowed to staff multiple years in a row?
- Given that RFs will now select Row house student staff, what will constitute the “clear and consistent standards for selection,” and what will the consequences be if they aren’t met? Who will determine them?
- What was the motivation behind the statement “distractions such as televisions should be kept to a minimum”?
F. Neighborhood Logistics
- What will happen to the historic houses on Mayfield Avenue, many of which are home to current theme houses?
- Who will be in charge of lobbying Santa Clara County for all the necessary buildings to carry out this overall vision? What will the transition process look like to keep such efforts going decades down the line?
- What is “distinctly Stanford” about a neighborhoods model that is based off of the structure and style of peer institutions’ housing systems (i.e. Harvard, Princeton, Yale)?
G. Community Engagement
- ResX intends to improve the housing experience “for the next quarter century.” Of the many changes proposed in its report, which ones does it intend to prioritize?
- Notably, the report failed to address certain hot-button issues on campus, including the future of Greek life and “residential medical accommodations.” This comes as a disappointment, given their salience to the campus community. What is the timeline and charge of these nebulously convened task forces?
- The report makes reference to “mentors, grad students, faculty, and professional staff … ‘living and working’” in neighborhoods — will existing graduate/faculty/professional housing be demolished to make room in the new neighborhoods?
- How exactly will this be implemented, and how will these stakeholders interact with the broader neighborhood community of undergraduates (especially given how isolated the graduate student residences are currently)?
- How does ResX intend to foster a strong freshmen community or freshmen experience when all-frosh dorms are separated by the neighborhood structure?
H. Social Concerns
- Seeing as students will be “citizens of one neighborhood all 4 years,” how will the administration prevent the siloing of campus life? What opportunities to interact with communities outside of your assigned neighborhood will exist?
- Given that the Task Force is concerned with the privilege and social status associated with living on the Row, how would this plan ensure that such privilege does not concentrate in certain neighborhoods in the future?
- Who exactly will host all-campuses and wholly accessible parties under the neighborhood model, given the fragmented nature of the neighborhood system?
And, a final note:
- How will the University reconcile its mantra (“winds of freedom”) with the fact that the new housing system inherently limits student choice?
It’s our hope that the ResX Task Force will take some time over the remaining weeks in this quarter to hear the criticisms and concerns of students, as evidently there are still many questions left unanswered. Hopefully, this list, and our previous article where we raised yet-unanswered concerns, can serve as a primer for what might be in store should they choose to engage with students.
Contact the Vol. 255 Editorial Board at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.