Wild and Gonzalez speak to SU about space equity and housing 

The main takeaway from Student Union’s (SU) Senate meeting this week is that Washington University’s residential and extracurricular space is more scarce than administrators and students want to see.

Senate brought in Associate Vice Chancellor Rob Wild and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Anna Gonzalez to speak about the University’s space equity initiative at their Tuesday meeting and to yield other questions from students in attendance. 

Their conversation turned to residential spaces at one point, which is when Gonzalez spoke to the paucity of housing on campus. 

“Normally in residential buildings, we would have different spaces for emergencies for things that come up [and] I don’t know the actual number [we now have], but it is smaller than what we are comfortable with,” Gonzalez said. 

She said that many students are interested in living on campus largely because they view it as safer than off-campus housing and also that transfer students are currently in need of more residential space.

“One of the most important factors for transfer students to accept coming to WashU is if they are guaranteed housing space,” she said. “We could have probably filled two or three [houses with transfer students] had there been space for housing, [so] we gave them one.”

Gonzalez added that the residential needs of transfer students are not guaranteed and are only met if there is space available.

Working on the future of residential life on campus is part of the University’s student space planning efforts, although no concrete steps were presented at the meeting for increasing residential space. 

The SU meeting was otherwise centered on the University’s space equity initiative.

Through the Future of Student Space Planning initiative, the University will evaluate how to more equitably distribute residential, performance, rehearsal, social, and storage spaces on campus. 

“We want to create a process with a shared understanding of how those spaces get out to meet the needs of today’s really diverse student body,” Gonzalez said.

A new committee, the Future of Student Space Planning Team, was created to work on the initiative. The group of 22 students, chaired by Executive Director for Campus Life Stan Sweeney and senior Raven Ferguson, was selected to represent different student perspectives and create recommendations for the Board of Trustees in regards to student space. 

By the end of October, the team aims to publish an online forum for students to voice their concerns to the committee. 

The initiative’s three phases are discovery, clarification, and implementation, all of which will take a full academic year to complete. This year, the group will begin seeking out the biggest problems that they can then focus on solving. Next year will be dedicated to creating policies to be implemented by Fall 2025. 

For many students, the big question with this initiative is how access to the 11 houses on campus, primarily occupied by Interfraternity Council (IFC) fraternities, will change. According to Wild, the future of the houses is unclear.

“It’s not fair to our campus community if we privilege one group over another [in terms of] space,” Wild said. “I also think it’s not fair for the University to make arbitrary decisions without student input into how we allocate the spaces.”

According to Wild, it’s necessary to determine whether an organization even needs space, as well as for the organization to understand the responsibility that comes with taking up space. 

“Having space dedicated for a student group is a privilege,” Wild said. “With that privilege comes some responsibility to give back to the campus community.”

At the meeting, Gonzalez said that fraternity houses privilege one gender over the rest of the school because men in Greek housing have paid cheaper residential fees than students in the South Forty. 

Students from various organizations also voiced concerns about how group size and faculty needs will factor into space equity decisions. 

Representatives from theater and dance groups specifically asked about the longstanding six-hour rehearsal space reservation limit which has created problems for some performance groups. 

“We do not have enough rehearsal space to meet demand today,” Wild said. Part of the problem is that the amount of student groups has grown significantly in recent years, he added.

“Dr. Phyllis Jackson, who oversees event management and campus life and is responsible for the spaces that Student Affairs manages…is trying to look at the number of student groups and come up with what she believes is a fair number to reallocate space,” he said.

Wild said that one of the great successes of the University in the last 10 years has been its commitment to improving socioeconomic diversity and they don’t want to stymie that improvement from tuition increases.

“This is a solvable problem,” Wild said. “The tricky nuance is to do things new and better without putting the cost back onto the shoulders of students.”

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