EDEL: Save our suites

The University is losing something valuable with its plans to restructure Courtenay, Dunglison and Fitzhugh dorms

The University is seeing a massive overhaul of its first-year dormitories in the next couple of years. Along with the ongoing construction of a new dormitory on Alderman Road, there is a renovation of McCormick Road residence halls planned for summer 2017. As portions of McCormick dormitories are taken “offline,” more students will be placed in the motel-esque Alderman Road suite-style dormitories of Courtenay, Dunglison and Fitzhugh, where there are no study rooms nor air conditioning, and where those students will surely lament their fates. Post-renovations, the University administration plans to “take down or demolish” Courtenay, Dunglison and Fitzhugh to make room for new dormitories in the vein of existing hall-style Alderman Road ones. After that, the last first year suite-style dorm on Grounds will be Gooch-Dillard. As a current Dunglison resident, I find this prospect disconcerting.

There are some obvious character-building aspects of Courtenay, Dunglison and Fitzhugh living. The lack of air-conditioning, the devilish placement of the dormitories between O’Hill and Runk dining halls, the lack of a mailroom or laundry room, the distance from Central Grounds — all of these build first-year boys and girls into men and women. They become steeled to adversity. But more than any of that, suite-style living fosters a sense of community that most clearly manifests itself in a more intimate resident to Resident Advisor relationship.

For my part, my RA lives in the same suite as I do, with eight other guys. On weekdays all of us — residents and advisor alike — generally hang around in the common room, doing homework, watching videos and talking. The setup of the suite nearly forces you to be in the common room. As such, my RA is approachable at nearly all times. If, on a Saturday afternoon, he’s not in the library, he’s sitting next to me on the couch playing Super Smash. The forced interaction leads to a healthier relationship with the Resident Advisor than hall-style housing, where students might live down a hallway’s length from their RA. And a healthier relationship frees students to unhesitatingly go to their RAs for advice or help when it really counts: when there is an emergency or an issue that could be remedied by an RA’s training and experience.

After last semester’s hardships, the role of the RA as a mediator, guide and friend has become more important than ever. My fellow columnist Mary Russo has argued off-Grounds students should retain access to residential advisors on that basis. Why, then, are we planning to unceremoniously knock down some of the last suite-style buildings, where RAs are arguably the most effective, on Grounds? Yes, CDF is hot in August. Yes, I complain about living in Dunglison all the time. Yes, I just learned researching this article that they were apparently easily burglarized in 2004. Yes, that kind of terrifies me. But that’s no reason to replace CDF with hall-style dormitories. I want to get this out early so perhaps something can be changed before the inexorable march of new dorms construction bulldozes CDF: I would like the University administration to consider replacing CDF not with more buildings like Shannon and Tuttle-Dunnington, but with new suite-style buildings.

The reasons not to do this are plenty. Suite-style dormitories are less space-efficient. Every 10 residents have a common room and a bathroom. Compare this setup to hall-style dormitories, where a bathroom and common room might service 40. The current entrances to the common rooms — where some personal belongings and expensive electronics might lie — face the outside. Compared to traditional dormitories, this is definitely more of a security risk. But the unique culture of first-year residence life that suite-living provides is worth these costs, and it would be a shame if they were replaced with yet more boring hotels.

Brennan Edel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at b.edel@cavalierdaily.com.

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