What Happened To Community? How Changes to Residential Policies are Closing the Eastern Community

If you read through Eastern’s website, you’ll see many references to Community. We have a “vibrant campus community,” reads the About page. The administration’s five-year Strategic Plan lists “Cultivating Community” as an “imperative” for the university. Our mission statement says we are a “diverse, Christ-centered community.”

Living on campus is central to this mission. The residence life page says that “students are invited to foster connections” and “make life-long friendships” on campus. Full-time students are required to live in residence halls to “experience greater personal, spiritual, and emotional growth.” It is clear that Eastern considers dorm life fundamental to a healthy campus community.

However, over the last few years, Eastern has made a number of changes to residence policies. Though the changes have been gradual, it’s important to consider their collective effect on the community. I will address three key changes to the dorms in particular.

(1) Freshman-Only Dorms. In Fall of 2021, Sparrowk joined Eagle as a dorm reserved for upperclassmen. The next year, 2022, Gough and Kea-Guffin were designated as freshman-only dorms, with upperclassmen required to live elsewhere. Over the span of these two years, Eastern separated first year students from the rest of the campus. This means that new students are no longer integrated into the broader campus community. They are hindered in developing friendships that span multiple academic years. This has multiple repercussions.

First, separating freshmen means removing role models. Older students teach younger students the culture of the campus. As Emerson once said, “I pay the schoolmaster, but ‘tis the school boys who educate my son.” With no upperclassmen living on their halls, freshmen do not have  more experienced peers to educate them—no one for them to imitate. It’s no wonder that the worst behavioral issues and most extreme punishments last year happened in freshman dorms.

Second, separating years means freshmen are further removed from clubs and campus life. Without upperclassmen living on their halls, freshmen miss key opportunities to be invited to clubs of which the older students are already members and leaders.

Third, upperclassmen are less likely to reach out to new students when they don’t live in the same buildings. Since upperclassmen don’t regularly see freshmen on their halls, there are few opportunities to get to know them and welcome them into the Eastern community.

In the Dorm Tour video on Eastern’s website, they talk about the old policy of integrated dorms, saying that it allowed “for a more inclusive, unified community, something that students at Eastern love.” If, in the University’s own words, integrated dorms are more inclusive, then why did we abandon that policy? Is inclusiveness no longer our priority?

(2) Closed Doors. In early 2020, I visited Eastern and stayed overnight with a student ambassador. I stayed in a 4-person room on a men’s hall in Guffin. My host explained that on his hall, everyone left their door open almost all day, leading to many impromptu conversations and a tight-knit community.

While that hall was uniquely friendly, at the time, it wasn’t hard to find other open doors and welcoming students across campus. I recall many friendly greetings as I passed open doors in my hall freshman year.

But now, three years later, that has changed dramatically. Ever since the closed-door policy was introduced in 2022, open doors have been hard to find. Previously, when someone of the opposite sex was visiting a room, the door had to be kept open. Thus, the many doors propped during visitation created a broader culture of openness; it made halls appear welcoming. But now, walk down any girl’s hall, and you’ll find a host of welcome mats without a single open door.

(3) Restricted ID Access. This year, Eastern implemented a new policy for IDs. Previously, a student ID provided access to each of the dorm buildings on campus. Under the new system, students are restricted from entering any dorm or hall except for their own.

Currently, this system is plagued with technical and logistical errors from a hasty installation. Some students can’t access buildings in which they have classes, offices, or other legitimate needs; others have access to halls in their buildings that are meant to be restricted. But laying aside these (hopefully temporary) issues, I’ll comment on the policy instead.

The theory is straightforward: if we only give people access to necessary halls, we increase overall safety. Yet we’ve already seen that ID-locked doors don’t stop people. If someone knocks on the door to Sparrowk, a student inevitably opens it for them. The same behavior is already happening on halls under the new policy. The only legitimate security comes from locking the door to your own room, and restricting student IDs isn’t going to change that.

In terms of community, this policy is troubling. By restricting access to other halls, it’s much more difficult for students to visit their friends. No more surprising your friend by knocking on their door to say hi or invite them somewhere; now you have to text first, so that they can let you into the hall.

Additionally, this only compounds the problems caused by freshmen-only dorms. For freshmen to make friends easily, they need to see other students on their halls; but upperclassmen can’t access the halls without a friend to let them in. It’s a catch-22: they need friends to make friends.

These three new policies—freshman-only dorms, closed doors, and restricted IDs—are slowly separating the tight community we once had at Eastern. In order to pass on the university culture from one year to the next, retaining our core values across decades, we need a system where Juniors and Seniors integrate with Freshmen and Sophomores. We can’t keep pushing Seniors into off-campus housing, isolating Freshmen, and hiding friend groups behind closed doors on ID-restricted halls. If we want a “vibrant campus community,” we must start with a policy of openness.

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