When I received my housing contract in July of 2022, I was immediately excited because all I could think was, “I’m not on North Campus!” I did not realize that the “Hill” housing I was assigned to was actually half a mile away, which felt like false advertising. I tried to stay optimistic my first few days on campus, but the mile walks I took in the heat before I figured out the bus system made it difficult. Thus began my doomed, toxic relationship with Oxford Houses.
When I tell people I live at Oxford, they tend to reply with, “Oh, where’s that?” Oxford Houses is the second smallest mixed gender Residence Hall, after Fletcher Hall, at the University of Michigan. It is advertised as a “quiet residential neighborhood” that’s only a “six-block walk” to Central Campus. The walk to Mason Hall, a building that most freshmen will have a class in at some point, is a mile long and half a mile from the nearest bus stop. During the weekend, the bus only runs from 5:00 p.m. until 9:45 p.m., resulting in residents frequently making the walk to Central Campus in all weather conditions.
This might seem like a completely livable environment for students who receive their housing assignments over the summer, all of whom are anxious, excited and ready to move in. What they do not tell you about Oxford is that it’s right by the fraternities, and you will get no sleep before 3:00 a.m. during Welcome Week. Plus, walking a mile during a snowstorm to the library for your group assignment on a Sunday morning is an easy way to guarantee a cold. Moreover, having to walk back from a Saturday night football game in the rain for 45 minutes will result in you crashing on a friend’s floor anywhere closer to campus than Oxford.
The University has failed the 353 residents of Oxford by advertising this façade of a small, tight-knit and quiet community. Oxford was built in 1963 and has yet to receive any renovations. It lacks features like air conditioning, more than one water bottle station per building or doors to the showers instead of curtains. Oxford is home to the Sustainable Living Experience, which describes Oxford as a “unique wooded residential neighborhood near the Nichols Arboretum.”
An opportunity for the SLE members is to gain the opportunity to make their living space more sustainable, but it is difficult to see the difference the SLE is making. The only requirements for the experience are to live at Oxford, take SLE seminars and contribute to an inclusive community. It seems as though the University is using a lack of amenities like air conditioning as an environmentally-friendly position to justify the existence of Oxford. Was not having power for two days at the beginning of winter semester all in the name of sustainability?
With its lack of amenities and student experiences, Oxford is the worst residence hall on campus. It needs upgrades and attention from the University in order for it to keep functioning, especially after the construction of the new residence hall on Elbel Field. Unlike Bursley and Baits, Oxford lacks spaces nearby like the James and Anne Duderstadt Center, Pierpont Commons and the North Campus Recreation Building to study in or meet up with other students. There are small common areas in each house, but they are impractical for those who are meeting up with a resident at Oxford for things such as a group project. The dorm room designs are flawed as well: The two-person suites lack the space for both a desk and a bed if the bed is not fully lofted. This forces many residents to leave their desks in the common area, where suitemates are piled on top of each other when trying to study. The design of the room is simply impractical for the needs of many students.
Oxford is near an elementary school, fraternity and sorority houses and off-campus housing. It is not “on-campus” in any way. It is surrounded by sidewalks that are not regularly shoveled because they are not owned by the University. This results in patches of ice throughout the entire walk to Central Campus on the weekend when the buses aren’t running in the winter. It is ridiculous to assume this is a doable trek for all students, or that the spaces in Oxford are a suitable replacement for nearby academic buildings when they simply are not.
To alleviate the trouble for students in the winter time, providing buses that run throughout the day on the weekend, and even running the Oxford Shuttle bus route alongside the Diag-to-Diag or Northwood Express routes would provide students with more opportunities to get to Central Campus. It is unreasonable to expect Oxford residents to walk to campus on the weekend any time that isn’t 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., especially during Michigan winters.
Maybe I’m just holding a grudge, but I will say my opinions on Oxford have remained unchanged since move-in. It feels like because Oxford is such a small residence hall in comparison to the others on campus, it does not receive the same care, attention or resources from personnel or janitorial staff. While reasonable to assume Oxford would have fewer staff due to its size, the general lack of personnel can lead to a feeling of neglect by residents. Living in Oxford should be a choice because of its lack of amenities and staff, given to people who find the seclusion and distance an appeal. Simply putting a question on the housing application for students asking if they are interested in living at Oxford would provide those with the opportunity to choose this location for themselves.
There are plenty of happy people at Oxford who don’t mind living there because they either enjoy being close to the fraternities or prefer the overall seclusion from the bustle of Central Campus. But there are also many people at Oxford who would prefer living basically anywhere else on campus. I am one of them. I will not risk getting frostbite because the University cannot see the issues with making students walk in zero degree weather. This is my formal breakup with Oxford Houses. It’s time for Oxford and the University to do some reflecting on this relationship.
Lara Tinawi is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.