Soon to end, renovations will provide more options for upperclassmen

By Rachel Premack, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 8, 2013

This is the second article in, “Where ‘U’ Live,” a five-part series on housing at the University.

LSA senior Henry Holland garners the occasional odd glance when he tells other residents in East Quad Residence Hall that he’s a senior.

That reaction is reasonable: seniors constituted only 5 percent of the 2012 on-campus housing population, according to Peter Logan, the director of communications for University Housing.

The small number isn’t surprising to Holland, who said most of his upperclassmen friends live off-campus. But it may raise questions about the need for graduate housing — specifically, the $110 million graduate dorm set to open in 2015 thanks to an historic donation by Charles Munger.

The lack of upperclassmen — juniors occupied just 8 percent of dorm rooms in 2012 — does not, however, indicate a lack of graduate students interested in dorm life. In 2005, the last year before housing renovations eliminated scores of University beds, 12 percent of housing residents were graduates.

Logan attributes these ratios to undergraduates’ desire to live off-campus after their experience in University dorms. Graduate students, on the other hand, are still adjusting to a new city and classmates.

“Graduate students are open to campus housing that provides an affordable location and social connection with other grads,” Logan said.

Two of the five Northwood communities on North Campus are exclusively graduate dorms. Northwood IV and V offer one- to three-bedroom homes and on-site child care for graduate students with families. The only existing graduate housing option on Central Campus, however, is the newly-renovated Lawyers Club, which accommodates about 260 law students. Diane Nafranowicz, director of the Lawyers Club, said more than half of the incoming class opts to live in one of the single rooms.

New law students typically spend their summer prior to enrollment conducting research or studying abroad, making a housing search difficult, Nafranowicz said.

Law students are also relatively new to the University. Not unlike undergraduate freshmen, first-year graduate students lack the social connections to find group homes and apartments, and they’re not familiar with Ann Arbor’s housing stock.

“A grad student who comes for the first time has many shared experiences with any student who comes for the first time,” Nafranowicz said.

After living at the Lawyers Club for their first year, she said most law students move off-campus for their second and third years.

Since 2005, however, graduate students have lost some of their on-campus housing options to undergraduates, as facilities such as Couzens, Alice Lloyd, East Quad and, most recently, South Quad Residence Halls undergo renovations.

The renovations delegated three out of the five Northwood communities, spaces traditionally for graduates, as undergraduate housing. Northwood III is reserved exclusively for freshmen.

In fact, graduate participation in housing dipped from 12 percent in 2005 to 9 percent last year, when East Quad and the Lawyers Club were closed for remodeling. Presently, Logan said, there’s a shortage of housing for graduate students.

Renovations have also slighted older undergraduates. Traditionally, those who have lived in housing the longest, like Holland, had priority choice in housing. This advantage is now given to students who have lived in housing the shortest time, such as returning sophomores. As usual, freshmen are guaranteed housing but cannot pick their dorm.

Renovations have left junior and senior participation in housing largely unaffected. For example, the percentage of upperclassmen in housing is identical for 2005, the year before renovations began, and 2012, the most recent year with data during renovations. In the years between, numbers were largely similar.

Residence hall closings proved led to higher participation for sophomores: In 2005, when older students had more freedom in choosing their housing, 24 percent of the housing community was made up of second-year undergraduates. It was 27 percent last year.

Upperclassmen participation in housing is low compared to other institutions. Ninety-seven percent of Harvard University students live on campus for all four years. Harvard students typically remain in one house — dorms that house between 350 and 450 students — after freshmen year. Each house bears unique traditions; one storms campus once per year led by someone in a penguin suit.

Closer to home, slightly fewer upperclassmen at Michigan State University return to housing than at Michigan. MSU communications manager Kat Cooper said about 43 percent of the housing population was made of sophomores through seniors compared to 49 percent of Michigan’s housing population. Cooper said MSU encourages students to return, but recognizes East Lansing's capability to house its upperclassmen.

East Lansing bears similarity to Ann Arbor, which has enough housing for the 18,000 undergraduates who live off-campus. Logan, the University Housing spokesperson, explained that other campus communities often lack affordable and convenient off-campus housing.

Additionally, students at certain colleges are required to live on-campus for their first year, and sometimes their second. MSU requires students to live in residence halls freshman year, as does Harvard. The University does not have such a requirement. Students may also live in University housing all four years simply by custom. Logan noted that students typically venture off-campus as upperclassmen.

Logan said the University supports those upperclassmen who choose stay on campus while prioritizing freshmen, who generally require the most support.

“The incoming freshman needs the residential support more than any other student in order to acclimate to university life,” Logan said. “Lifelong friendships are created in that first freshmen experience on campus.”

Logan said housing is excited to offer that community support for graduates in the soon-to-come residence hall, similar to one Munger financed at Stanford University. Graduates will live in suites of up to seven other students from various disciplines, providing collaborative living and the single rooms that graduates seek.

And such community exists for upperclassmen like Holland, who keeps his door open and chats up his East Quad hallmates. Along with the dining halls and proximity to classes, Holland enjoys the halls’ quantity of people and his informal mentoring role as an older student.

“It’s less of what can the dorms do for me, but more about how can I reach out to people,” Holland said in his hall’s lounge, where Beyoncé was blasting from a nearby room. “How can I meet them, befriend them, impact someone’s life simply by knowing the ropes, knowing what people go through?”