Student Outcry after ResLife Policy Change

By Samantha Latos and Nick Pulliam

ResLife at Plymouth State University recently unveiled the new requirements for living off campus, and there has been a growing uproar of student reaction. The new policy states that in order to sign a lease to live off campus, students must be at least 21 before September 1st, or have 64 credits. This is an and/or deal; seniors who won’t be 21 before that date will still be eligible to live off campus because of their credits. Most students earn 64 credits by the end of their sophomore year.

Before this change, students were only required to live on campus for the first two years. There was no age requirement. Students had to have two academic years under their belt in order to live off campus, starting their junior year.

Many students have vocalized their concerns. The new policy, especially since it was just launched this month, has interfered with a lot of students plans. Marco Gianozzoa, a sophomore, said, “I want to live off campus; that was my original plan. Choosing to go to this school, that was my original plan. To live off campus by junior year.” Some students have said that if they knew of this policy before they chose PSU, they would not have gone to school here. Some current students have already considered transferring to a college that can accommodate off-campus housing for juniors and seniors. All students, however, want to know how and why this new policy exists.

Amanda Grazioso and Tracy Claybaugh were able to explain the behind the scenes of the new policy change. Grazioso is the Director of Residential Life and Dining Services. She oversees the residential communities, and indirectly supervised professional and paraprofessional hall staff and community advisors. Claybaugh is the Vice President for Finance and Administration. She has already received many calls from concerned students and parents.

A few weeks ago, Grazioso first brought up the policy change at a Student Senate meeting. “I went to the Senate meeting just to share our numbers and we looked at the budget, and I said, ‘This is what we are proposing for the live-on requirement.’ As you can imagine, students in the meeting were not happy to hear that. They shared a number of concerns and suggestions, and asked that I give them a week before we shared it publically, so that they could meet with constituents and with other students. There’s only about twenty of them, but they represent the campus: every cluster, every residence hall, off campus at large, every class. They put together a formal resolution for the following week.”

The Senate returned on the 21st with the impression that they could all reach a compromise. They vouched for all seniors to have the option live off campus, and for some juniors to have a fighting chance as well. This wouldn’t harm the rental businesses in the area, since juniors fill the gap that seniors can’t fill when it comes to off-campus living. “Tracy and I were at that meeting,” Grazioso said, “Some parents attended, and the public was able to voice their comments. We were there for about three hours. At the end of the meeting, there were a few other topics, but this was the main one to talk about. They (The Senate) voted by majority, not unanimous, there were some senators that did not agree. They recommended a formal resolution based on their understanding of the budget, and the recommendations they received about the program. That is where some of the changes from the initial draft I shared with the senate and what was made public on Thursday morning. Students need to be 21 by September 1st, and have 64 credits by the end of winter or early spring term.”

The Student Senate did end up drafting and voting in favor of a resolution, but it wasn’t their ideal outcome. “We wanted the old policy to remain intact, but they were not willing to budge on that at all. Because they’re saying, ‘Well basically, we either have to close down a dorm, or do what we want to do.’ So we tried to draft a resolution but it was tough because a lot of people kept going back to the fact that, well, we don’t want to change it at all because we think denying people the option to live off campus is wrong and it’s charging students a lot more money on campus,” said Nick Serafin, the Student Senate’s Parliamentarian.

Serafin also wanted to clarify where exactly the Student Senate stood on this issue. He said, “One thing I want to make clear though is, a lot of people I think have been misunderstanding exactly what happened in the Senate Room. People are looking at us and being like, ‘How could you support this?’ We don’t support the policy. Almost everyone on senate disagrees with what happened. The reason that we voted in favor is because we had to do at least something because we couldn’t just sit by and let people never be able to live off campus.”

Jacob Shairs, the Speaker of the Student Senate, had positive things to say about the discussion that was held at the meeting. “It was a good conversation back and forth, as the Student Senate reiterated every concern they had heard about the policy, which were clearly defined in the minutes, which are open to the public. It was a great dialogue, but I do believe it was kind of directed by residential life reasons.”

Adriana Whitaker, the Vice Speaker of the Student Senate, took issue with how the student body was informed. She said, “Although Senate saw the final announcement coming, and we knew some reasoning behind it after working very diligently with ResLife to try and get them to find an alternative solution, I still believe the rest of the Student Body was hit by a brick wall. It was very abrupt, with little to no explanation as to why they made changes.”

There has been a general misunderstanding regarding this policy. Students who already live off campus, who may not meet these requirements, do not need to come back to campus by any means. Juniors who live off campus this year can continue to do so next year without any issues. Students in the military, students who are married, and those with financial hardship will be considered as well. Anyone else who wishes to live off campus can fill out a form to Grazioso, explaining their situation in a respectful manner.

There were several steps in the process of making this decision. “The way we make our requirements is based on a number of things,” Grazioso said, “The first is demographics. So, how many students do we actually have on campus that could live in those halls. Then we get programmatic. So, what are we trying to do within the halls.” They need to make sure they can accommodate living spaces for new classes coming in. ResLife needs students to live in the residential halls. “If we don’t have students living here, then we won’t have money to finish and refurbish the halls,” Grazioso said.

An overarching factor is that PSU is seeing less and less students over time. Several years ago, huge classes attended PSU, and those numbers have gradually been dropping. “The demographic piece is looking at the size of our incoming classes, and how many students we anticipate staying that are already on campus. We’ve been pretty transparent campus-wide that our numbers of students staying from one year to the next are not where we want them to be. The number of students that are college-aged in New England, but really nationwide, is getting smaller. People have smaller families, and so there are fewer students.” ResLife needs to make sure students are filling the beds in residential halls. It’s what’s best for the school financially, and ResLife believes that living on campus has educational benefits as well.

The biggest educational advantage for living on campus is that students are close to resources and academic halls. Grazioso added that it builds a living and learning community.

Marlin Collingwood, Director of Marketing, Communication & Creative Services, had his own reasons why living on campus benefited students. Students living on campus always have the same resources, whereas students living off campus are less protected by the school itself. Loud parties in residential halls are handled differently and more leniently than parties off campus. “I think some students don’t realize they are seen as adults when they live off campus. You don’t just get told to quiet down from a CA anymore, you get an 800 dollar fine from the town of Plymouth, no questions asked,” Collingwood said.

Living in residential halls comes with a police force who are always on call to protect. “Safety and security are a big factor too,” Marlin said, “Residence halls and student apartments, any building on campus, has 24-hour security and access to UPD. There are some misunderstandings that when students move off campus, we still have some control over what happens to them. Students living off campus are at the jurisdiction of the Plymouth Police.”

Some students may not realize that living off campus is a grown-up thing to do. UPD works with students to help them and give them the benefit of the doubt, whereas the Plymouth Police work for the town, and their policies are much more strict.

ResLife is not surprised that students are reacting to this change, “It seems like a bigger deal this year because it is a bigger change in the policy,” Grazioso said. However, many students decided to voice their complaints in a protest that occurred on the 26th.

At around 1:00 pm, students began to gather outside the HUB, after hearing about plans for a protest the day before. The school provided a stage and a microphone, hoping that it would allow for a peaceful, organized protest where students could voice their concerns in a respectful manner. In the end, the protest was met with mixed responses. While almost everyone there was angry with ResLife’s decision, the way students expressed their anger was problematic. Many students who took to the stage did little to help the student body’s argument, going off topic and shouting expletives that contributed nothing to the conversation. At one point, students began to chant, “Fuck ResLife.” Another student came on stage and began arguing about changing the drinking age, a topic that had nothing to do with the issue at hand. Exclaiming profanities and making irrelevant arguments made them all look immature, and clearly not ready to sign leases and live on rental property.

Eventually, the protest took to the streets when students heard that the USNH Board of Trustees were having a meeting in Merrill Place. The crowd began marching to the meeting and eventually entered the building, only to realize that it had ended earlier in the day. After that, the protest mostly fizzled out, with students going their separate ways.

ResLife was expecting student reaction, however, they were not expecting such an unprofessional display. “We don’t want to hurt anyone,” Claybaugh said, “It’s great that they got a petition together, we of course want to see that. I think everyone has a voice and opinion. I look at it as, we have to look at what’s better for the community and the campus too, for all of us.” ResLife noted that they will take the public petition into consideration. Their ultimate decision will be effected by the students behavior; if students are serious about living off campus, then they need to prove that they are mature enough to do so.

Anyone who doesn’t meet the requirements, but wants try to live off campus, or has a unique and unanticipated situation, can contact the ResLife office, or reach out to Amanda Grazioso at ajgrazioso@plymouth.edu.