Column | On-campus vs. off-campus housing
Columnist Megan Harding argues in favor of freshman living in University housing, whereas columnist Daniel Kibler urges students to look elsewhere for a residence.
February 20, 2023
Opinion | On-campus living deserves a revamp
Living in a dorm during freshman year is a character-building experience, as it forces students to learn to live with another person in close quarters, problem solve and make new friends. Residence hall life is an important stepping stone between living with your parents and being completely independent.
On-campus living also reminds students not to take anything for granted: personal space, cleanliness or long, hot showers.
Even with these inconveniences in mind, living on campus gives students stability and protection they are not as likely to get living off campus: enforced security measures, financial aid packages that determine the cost and, most importantly, the meal plans that come with on-campus housing make students less likely to be food insecure.
However, there are some pleasantries the University could add that would take dorming to the next level.
1. Bathroom modernization
For the $10,000 or more students pay to live in the dorms per year, a bathroom should at least be free of 70s-inspired, blue-and-pink tile and a complete lack of privacy.
Stalls could be designed to be fully enclosed without gaps at the top or bottom. This way, when students are using the bathroom, they have more privacy and do not feel as surrounded.
Nugent, Wassaja, PAR and ISR have already taken the steps to create more private spaces. They have individual-use bathrooms that allow residents to take a shower and use the bathroom without someone sitting right next to them.
This is not suite style since there are far more rooms than bathrooms, but it does allow students to have much-needed alone time they do not get anywhere else.
The interior design and aesthetics of bathrooms could also be improved. The design elements and good lighting in bathrooms such as CIF and Siebel Center for Design could be implemented in dorm bathrooms to create a more clean finish.
2. Air conditioning improvements
While most dorms are equipped with window air conditioning units, they are only on for August, September and some of October. Not only is there a possibility of hot days in late October and early November, but having heaters on in the winter makes rooms both humid and musty. For the extra cost residents must pay to live in an air-conditioned room, it should be more accessible.
Additionally, the units could be cleaned or replaced more regularly to prevent mold from growing on the inside, which happens when dust continues collecting.
Most dorms on campus offer air conditioning, but Allen, LAR, Taft-Van Doren, Barton and Lundgren all come without air conditioning. Even with a fan, Illinois summers can make rooms hot, sticky and unbearable. Having air-conditioned rooms for every dorm would make living on campus even more appealing.
3. Lounge decor
Many dorm lounges feature cement walls, fluorescent lighting, hard plastic tables and chairs, and a few blue and green couches that have most likely not been replaced in the last decade.
Since most dorm rooms barely have enough room to fit both a desk and a bed on either side, using the room as a study environment is not always productive.
Without stripping the entire lounge, a few purchases from Amazon or even a local thrift store could give the lounge areas a much-needed makeover.
To start, the walls could be made less bare with hanging plants, photographs or artwork. Each table could have a lamp, or there could be strings of cool-colored lights around the area.
The room could be complete with a beanbag and faux fur desk chairs that could double as a relaxing place to sit or a chair that will not hurt after sitting and doing homework for hours.
4. Food quality
As mentioned above, the meal plans available through University Housing are an easy option for students to eat without worrying about spending money at the grocery store and cooking their own meals with an already busy schedule.
However, some of the meals are unhealthy and lack variety. The smell of grease lingers on clothing after leaving the dining hall, a sign that the food may not be prepared in the healthiest ways. There are also weeks where the same foods are being served every single day, which does not allow for much variety.
While there is an effort to include vegetarian and vegan options with the salad bar and meatless burger alternatives, meat-free entrees are not available all of the time, and eating a salad for every meal is not ideal.
The University has so much potential to make the most of the living spaces they offer for students. On-campus living isn’t necessarily a bad option, but more could be done to make continuing residence hall life after freshman year more enticing.
With the argument that living in an off-campus apartment is the better option, the University has the choice to facilitate an environment that surpasses the off-campus benefits and makes students feel at home.
Megan is a freshman in Media.
Opinion | Off-campus housing puts dorms to shame
While living on campus may feel satisfying at first, off-campus housing far surpasses what residence halls offer.
Being young and away from your parents for the first time, surrounded by people your age, leads to some good times. Many people’s fondest memories of college revolve around freshman dorm mischief.
But if we are being serious, once the luster of freshman dorm life wears off, every sane person is ready to move into their own housing like a real person. This shows why off-campus housing is superior.
Let’s look at the advantages of dorm life. One definite advantage is how quickly you meet people in the confined spaces of a dorm. Whether it’s in the bathroom or the lounge, you tend to run into the same people constantly, which leads to friendship.
Another pro to residence halls is that dorm food sometimes just hits the spot. Ever been to barbecue night at the Ikenberry Dining Hall? Good times. Barbecue aside, access to the dining hall can be extremely convenient in general.
That’s where the advantages ends.
Let’s face it, living like sardines with a bunch of other people kind of blows. You share a bathroom with dozens of other people, and unless you get lucky, you’re living in a tiny room with someone else. You have next to no privacy.
Lack of privacy is a prevalent issue with on-campus living. The walls separating your dorm from your neighbors’ are paper thin. Got an exam at 8 a.m. tomorrow? Sorry, your neighbor just got back from a rush event and feels like having a sick post-game at 2 a.m. with six other people.
The room size is also a major problem. It’s very easy to go stir-crazy in a room that resembles a closet. There’s also not much room for personal items or decorations that will make the closet feel like home.
Illness spreads like wildfire. Once somebody has a virus of any kind on your floor, everybody will end up getting it. It’s just a matter of time. Sharing bathrooms and touching the same door knobs with 40 people tends to do that.
Since living in glorified army barracks is unappealing to most people, switching to apartment life is a natural part of a college student’s maturation.
College is a time of growth and change in the lives of young people, with many “firsts” in their lives. Many will experience their first time away from their parents, first real relationships and first professional work experiences.
This being said, college also is normally the first time most people learn to live on their own. This means doing your own laundry, cooking your own food and cleaning your own living areas.
Living in an off-campus apartment is the time when people learn to support themselves. It’s imperative that people learn these life skills before they start their careers and real lives. Residence halls only delay this necessary growth period.
However, off-campus housing involves much more than boring adult stuff.
Apartments are also spacious enough to support actual gatherings. This is a much better alternative to having to awkwardly cram all of your friends into a closet-sized dorm while sitting on whatever beds or ottomans are available.
Access to a real kitchen is a big deal as well. Dorm food, as good as it sometimes is, can make you pack on pounds. The freshman 15 is a real thing. Access to a kitchen enables you to learn how to cook food that is healthy, which is a life skill everybody needs.
Lastly, not only do dorms function like prisons, they often look like prisons — beige, dull and boring. However, with a space that is totally yours, you are allowed to customize it to a much greater degree than dorms allow. Similarly, off-campus housing lets you choose what your surroundings are — access to balconies and windows is a plus.
Let’s not kid ourselves: On-campus housing isn’t that great. Every student currently stuck in a dorm is simply waiting until they can move out of that musty dorm and live off campus. It’s just a fact of life.
Daniel is a senior in LAS.