University prioritizes freshman comfort

Jasmine Fleming

Representatives of the University of North Alabama made their priorities clear at the March 17 board of trustees meeting: Upperclassmen residents are second-class citizens when compared to freshmen residents.

At the meeting, Vice President of Student Affairs David Shields gave an update on campus housing and the current issues the university faces.

“Folks have been asking me about where our freshmen are going to go next year,” Shields said. “(They’re asking) what’s going to happen to the current students who are in Mattielou and Olive.”

Shields said the plan is to use Appleby East and West, Hawthorne and Covington to house current freshmen next year. He suggested these buildings because, as cluster halls, “they are the buildings that are most like the buildings that our current freshmen are in.”

The issue is that there may not be enough room in these buildings in the 2016-17 year to house current upperclassmen and this year’s freshman class.

However, Shields said there is “plenty of space” to house students on campus. Students will first fill Rivers Hall, and if they need more space, they can live in Rice Hall. The university will even open LaGrange Hall if necessary.

Shields said he does not want to use these traditional halls for current freshmen next year because “they’re not the desirable spaces that students want.”

As someone who lived in LaGrange for two years, and who is a current Rice Hall resident, I wonder why officials never seemed concerned with whether I or other upperclassmen found these halls “desirable.”

Shields said he is concerned that not having the same level of comfort and amenities for current freshmen next year will not only affect retention of them in the residence halls, but also at the university.

To fully understand the housing concerns of students, Shields said the university recently polled freshmen.

“There’s an interest to live on campus longer, but they’d want accommodations like they currently have,” he said. “They don’t want to move into a building where they have to share a shower with 45 of their best friends. They really have enjoyed their single bathrooms.”

As a Rice Hall resident, I can say that, more than communal bathrooms, I have found issue with the roaches and ladybugs in the building, limited shower temperature control, fallen ceiling tiles, extreme room temperatures and windows surrounded with duct tape.

In addition, the limited handicapped-accessibility of many upperclassmen halls should be a larger concern than students sharing bathrooms.

I also don’t understand why only freshmen took the survey, and why upperclassmen were not able to give our input on campus housing.

There are 689 first-time freshmen on campus and 547 upperclassmen, according to University Residences. Although freshmen outnumber upperclassmen, no group should have priority on a safe, enjoyable living space.

At the meeting, Shields also said the university has considered building a new residence hall or updating Rice and Rivers halls to accommodate the freshmen when they are upperclassmen.

Although many board members commented on this housing issue as a concern, it was not until the Student Government Association President Nick Lang spoke that I felt anyone remembered there are currently upperclassmen on campus.

“I think if we implement housing for upperclassmen, we will retain a lot of students, and we will continue to see this environment continue to grow,” Lang said. “I really do support the upperclassmen housing.”

I do appreciate our SGA president providing commentary on behalf of upperclassmen. I only hope that the board of trustees will realize we have opinions on housing as well, and I hope they consider us when discussing student needs.