I’ll go out on a limb and say it: People should pay more attention to the dorms.
As a far-too-long-time resident of the University Park Apartments, I’ve been saying this for years. Back when I was president of the student government of the dorms – we were elaborately called the “Residence Halls Association” – it was clear to me that the only thing keeping CSUN from becoming a straight-up commuter campus were its 15 residence halls nestled between Zelzah and Lindley Avenues near Lassen Street.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this school, both its successes and its failures. What kept this school from becoming something beyond saving, at the times when my patience was at its lowest, was the dorms. Cafeteria food, late-night soccer games in the middle of the UPA, parties in one of the international student buildings, the Living Learning Communities; all of this made CSUN feel like a real college. I loved it.
But nobody else seemed to pay much attention to us. Unlike most schools, our on-campus population is just a small percentage of the student body. The department that runs student housing is a financially independent operation, receiving no state support, only recently syncing up with campus on some academically motivated projects.
Budget crunches hampered a lot of what could have been in the UPA, as good people were challenged with decisions about what resident services would be cut each year. At a time when technological growth should have been more widespread, the dorms’ computing resource team seemed to take continual cuts because there was no other choice.
On top of this, rent increases supplemented the continuous loss of services quite nicely. Resident concerns about the quality of food services in the Satellite Student Union, chronically ill-repaired laundry machines and the occasional appearance of guns in what seemed to be the same residence hall over and over again turned the UPA into a fun place to live. (To be accurate, all three of these problems have been addressed.)
In short, there’s a lot going on up there and a lot to pay attention to. I did my best to run Residence Halls Association, to be an advocate and a programming source for the nearly 2,000 residents of the UPA, even when it seemed that it really didn’t matter.
Late last week, and as reported in today’s Daily Sundial, a new breed of student leaders will take over the various positions within Residence Halls Association that run the individual UPA community councils.
These leaders have a lot of work to do, and I can’t wait to see how they do. From election results that I’ve seen and the overall sentiment I get from living up there, things look good, and advocacy issues may see the light of day.
The stakes are going to get even higher for student leaders in the dorms, however, and a call to action is needed. As CSUN moves toward its Envision 2035 campus master plan, the role of student housing on our campus is being carefully examined. I like the way university officials are thinking of new student housing possibilities: closer to campus, more academically enriched, more dynamic.
To that effect, it is time for Associated Students to get more involved in student housing and to consider absorbing Residence Halls Association as part of its role as the campus’ official student government and programming body.
The student leaders of the dorms need the type of legitimacy that a stronger relationship with A.S. could provide. The residents of the UPA would benefit from closer ties to A.S. and university officials, as well as from the financial responsibility that would come from those closer ties. (Every resident of the UPA is asked to pay an optional $15 RHA fees, producing an annual budget of somewhere close to $30,000. From my experiences there, I know it is necessary for that money to be more responsibly spent.)
Many A.S. leaders, both past and present, have been residents of the UPA. Some presently have leadership roles in both organizations. I’m advocating consolidation.
There are a number of issues that A.S. could put on its agenda that the residents of the UPA could benefit greatly from, including an examination of the judicial process. While I realize that A.S.’ plate is already quite full and that an A.S.-RHA merger won’t fix everything I’ve seen over the last three years, it’s both a start and financially responsible.
If nothing happens, and if the UPA continues to be just some crazy place for students to party every now and then, everybody loses. But if this year’s student leaders, both from RHA and from A.S., hook up, some good can really be done.
Then my conscience will be cleared.
Ryan Denham can be reached at email@example.com.