This Halloween evening, SGA donned their costumes and settled in for a discussion on student housing.

This week’s SGA meeting was all about housing. Although, initially, it was all about costumes. SGA reps donned their most creative costumes for the meeting! Very spooky. But this did not stop them from getting right to business concerning housing. Nikki Youngblood Giles, the Vice Dean of Campus Life, and John Manning, the Interim Director of Residential Life and Housing and CARES joined SGA for a presentation and discussion on this matter. To kick off the evening, SGA gave a presentation that outlined their vision for Barnard housing and explained how they hoped to be involved in the housing process. 

SGA takes studying housing very seriously; it’s a separate pillar on their policy agenda, making it one of the keystone issues they hope to tackle this year as an organization. They explained that housing is a large aspect of college life and greatly impacts student wellbeing—especially now, during a city-wide housing crisis and as students return to campus after moving out due to COVID-19. SGA said they hope to ensure that Res Life on campus can work from a well informed foundation and understand the desires of the student body. They hope for a collaborative partnership that allows for creative solutions. 

They outlined their overall housing goals:  

  • Addressing the guest access policy – standardizing the Columbia/Barnard relationship 
  • Addressing the minor sign-in policy 
  • Ensuring that all students who need housing receive housing 
  • Ensuring winter housing for all students who need it 
  • Creating guest policies that don’t police sex lives
  • Addressing housing issues that are brought by students to SGA 

The floor was then opened to Manning, who gave a presentation and answered some questions from the SGA. Generally, he explained, housing is a complicated process of capacity and demand. Res Life has to predict how many students in any given year will want housing, which can be difficult, especially during the pandemic. Res Life has also run into limitation on space—they cannot house every single Barnard student, so they work with a set of four housing principles. 

  • New first year students have guaranteed housing all four years as long as they continue to live on campus 
  • Students who take medical leave/leave of absences are not guaranteed housing but are prioritized upon return 
  • Transfer students are not guaranteed housing, but are prioritized in their first academic year
  • Res Life seeks to meet all Disability accommodations for those with guaranteed housing 

He directly addressed a few of the points from the SGA presentation. Res Life is working to make winter housing more accessible, he explained. It can be difficult to standardize the winter housing process because the situations vary so drastically by dorm (some dorms house only Barnard students, some dorms house non-Barnard residents, for example.) Res Life is sending out a winter housing application to gain a better understanding of where the community stands and see who needs supporting in this area. He encouraged everyone to fill out the form! He also explained that Res Life is always looking to support transfer students. However, the physical limits on space mean that there are always a lot of unknowns. They are working on creating programs to connect transfer students with affordable housing resources. 

Questions from the SGA: 

Since you’re new to Barnard I’d love to hear about your personal philosophy. What is one thing you really want to see accomplished culturally or in terms of policy after your first year? 

  • I really want to take the time to look at things, understand what’s happening, and not just assume that I know what students need. I want to make sure we’re asking questions of the SGA, RAs, and residents, and not just doing things because that’s how we’ve always done them. I’d love to improve the overall residential experience. As I operate each day, I’m turning to the next part of the residential experience. It’s hard to pick out one overarching theme, as right it’s all very day-to-day. Overall, I’d say we’re looking for efficiency and trying to ask why we make the decisions we do. 

Could you explain the reasoning why only certain buildings can have winter housing? I think it’s confusing for a lot of students. 

  • Buildings have varying features and capacities. Some of it trying to ensure we don’t have one student alone, which presents challenges from a student experience lens. Some of them have kitchens and some don’t, which is important because we have less service and staff on campus over break. That’s why we’re putting out feelings to see the need is so we can maximize the support we can provide–while taking into account all those factors. 

Something that’s been brought up to me by a couple people in our class is the confusion over discrepancy between sign-in policies in the building. 

  • There have been a lot of changes in the signing-in and guest policies. We want to align our outward practices with guest policies as much as possible. And buildings are structured in different ways—like how Barnard doesn’t have the entire building for Barnard students in 110—so this adds complications. 

We’re curious as to whether there are any plans as to how the sign-in process might evolve. 

  • It will definitely continue to evolve, but we especially welcome input and feedback from the student body. If you have ideas as to how you can shape the form, please reach out to Res Life! We’re not living the student experience, so it’s helpful to hear from voices that are. 

Are there any plans to increase the number of housing units as enrollment has been increasing? 

  • We’re engaged in constant conversation with enrollment management and housing, but we don’t have a specific yes or no answer or timeframe at this point. There are a lot of stakeholders in this conversation, so we don’t have an answer yet. Dean Leslie Grinage, whose involved in the higher levels of strategic planning, might be able to give you more perspective if you reach out to her. 

The meeting ended with Nikki Youngblood Giles encouraging everyone to further involve themselves in the decision-making process. Whether or not you’re in SGA, you can come to town halls (there will be one in November!) fill out surveys, and reach out to the administration about your concerns with or ideas for student housing.

Housing Photoshop via Bwog Staff