Structural changes on campus central to DePauw 2020's community overhaul

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A prospective student drives down Anderson Street and passes through a set of gates at the entrance to Bloomington Street. She drives on past a grand display of trees and a manicured sidewalk lining the road. As the street comes to an end, the prospective student looks up and admires the magnificent sight of East College before her.

She has just arrived at DePauw University.

This potential scene is part of President Brian Casey's master campus plan, better known as "DePauw 2020." The plan calls for a reestablished entrance to the university that will better welcome visitors, in addition to a number of other physical changes aimed at making the campus more community friendly.

Community connections

While changes to buildings on campus may be years down the road, changes in university housing will be the first tangible restructuring.

Looking to transform the out-of-class experience at DePauw, Casey said he hopes to see a community with intense connections, intellectual growth and a deeper sense of community pride.

In order to achieve a stronger sense of community, DePauw implemented a new housing system this year that focuses on whom students choose to live with, rather than where.

"Students are going to apply as groups," said Myrna Hernandez, director of Campus Living and Community Development. "They're going to decide who they're going to live with. But sort of in the bigger picture is that they're going to create their own communities."

In previous years, students were assigned a lottery number based on grade and their status in Greek organizations, which was often frustrating for students, according to Hernandez, who received numerous complaints.

Until this year, students were assigned a lottery number that dictated their priority level in student housing. Group applications were considered according to the averaged lottery number of the group. If a student or a group was rejected from their top housing choice, they needed to reapply until they eventually received an assignment. For some students, this meant separating their original housing groups in order to fit in alternate housing options.

Because of this process, a number of students did not receive their housing assignment until May. Under the new process, for which applications are due March 16, students will be notified of their housing situation on March 31.

The old housing guidelines indicated that students were eligible for any housing option, but assignments were prioritized by grade level. Older students almost always filled the more deisreable options before younger students could choose.

"I think that was the biggest problem we had, that we said folks were eligible to live in all these different places, but they really weren't," Hernandez said.

While many colleges use a lottery system for housing, most of these schools house students primarily in residence halls. DePauw's diverse housing options make it difficult to assign all of the housing in the same way.

The new process will keep groups of students together, and allow them to prioritize their housing preferences on one application. Administrators place student groups in order to best satisfy their preferences.

Housing priority will be given to students according to grade level, regardless of greek status. A group of roughly 21 student representatives from various organizations met in the fall to discuss the new system. Hernandez hasn't received many complaints about the revised process thus far.

Hernandez said she thinks the new housing system fits in well with the campus plan. She said the housing process is designed to move forward as the campus plan advances.

A main goal of the housing plan is to create a freshman campus on South Quad that will fit all freshmen students. This goal, which will hopefully strengthen the freshman community, will also open up housing options in North Quad for upperclassmen.

Among the upperclassmen community, sophomores will largely live in residence halls and juniors and seniors will live in more mixed-class communities.

Freshman Felicia Santiago, who is a representative for the Organization of Resident Students, is familiar with the housing plan. She would like to see it help decrease the separation that occurs because of student housing.

"And I just think that overall it will be very beneficial for the dynamic of the community, that not everyone is going to be cliquish, and it'll get people to move around a lot more so people know about the different resources," Santiago said.

The campus plan proposes building upon the west senior neighborhood in order to create a stronger senior community with the inclusion of numerous campus groups. The concept of neighborhoods is a major component of the housing goals, and Hernandez said there's a strong desire to centralize student housing towards the core of campus.

"Part of being a residential campus is that...when you leave the classroom you don't stop learning," Hernandez said. "So I think that our system really should be conducive to students having intellectual conversations."

Casey said he hopes students in the upcoming decade will feel they have lived in a series of communities that have meant something. He wants students to have the opportunity to engage with faculty in intensive research and experiential opportunities and develop strong faculty relationships overall.

"We're too small to let anyone dissipate out to the edges," Casey said. "You can be anonymous at [Indiana University]. I don't want you to be anonymous here."

DePauw students made a conscious choice to live on this scale, Casey said. And the point of that scale is to encounter each other in debate, argument, friendly and not-so friendly interactions. The master plan is aimed at improving the DePauw community in order to best facilitate these types of opportunities.

"This plan takes what's really good about DePauw and delivers it at a better level," Casey said. "It feels like DePauw to me."