Low enrollment threatens special interest housing

Due to chronic low enrollment at Allegheny College, it is now theoretically possible for all students to be housed  in on-campus housing, which includes traditional dormitories as well as houses that are somewhat removed from the academic campus but still owned by the school. Seniors may find that they might not have the opportunity to escape from on-campus housing, as they may have had in the past. This has, in the minds of many rising upperclassmen, created more problems than it has solved.

The school offers students the chance to implement their own programs on campus, and these students can apply to literally house these programs in a house owned by the college. Because of these changes in the housing policies, the number of special-interest houses have been limited. Current students interested in applying for existing special-interest houses had to reapply and compete with those submitting new ideas for interest housing. Some of the houses saw triumphant returns: the Book House was allowed to stay in one of the largest (and nicest) houses the school owns.

Other organizations had to go, including Student Experimental Theatre, the Outing Club and the Co-Op. The reasons that these organizations were not allowed to return were not always disclosed by residence life, but it seems that the houses that were allowed to remain were chosen based on the extent to which they contribute to the community as a whole. Houses that consistently held open events, or said that they would on their applications, faired much better than those that did not. That is why it was a bit surprising when it was announced that Hillel would not be given a house for the next academic year. Hillel hosts Shabbat services every Friday. Although this is a religious observance, Shabbat is open to the entire community.

“I was very surprised, and I was distraught,” said Hannah Firestone ’19, the Hillel Interfaith Representative. “It came as a big shock considering that Hillel House is the only place on campus that Jews have to go and practice. We do a lot of programming that’s open to the whole campus. It’s not like we’re entitled to our house. I just didn’t ever expect it to be taken away.”

The decision regarding Hillel was doubly confusing because four Christian organizations were approved for houses.

“We fully support the other religious organizations with houses,” said Firestone. “We knew that the decisions weren’t anti-semitic, and we were happy for the other houses, but still it was hard to know we weren’t going to have our house. It was taken because of issues in the past. We talked to the dean and the head of [residence life] twice, and on the third time they told us we were getting our house back.”

Hillel was the only interest house that was reinstated after being disbanded, despite efforts like petitioning on the part of other groups. On an entirely residential campus, it is nearly impossible to satisfy all students with their housing requests. But, at the very least, ResLife should be more sensitive the changes that students want made.

“There will never be a perfect system for housing, but the way they are heading may not be the best,” Hannah Seawall ‘16 said.