Students reflect on first-year on-campus housing requirement

Freshman move-in day has become a ritual for many, with the first year on-campus living requirement a regular part of the beginning of the Baylor experience. Lariat file photo.

By Lucy Ruscitto | Staff Writer

After newly admitted students are welcomed to the Baylor family, freshmen are prompted to apply for housing through Campus Living & Learning to complete the required first-year on-campus housing requirement — no matter their living preference.

Terri Garrett, associate director for academic initiatives, has served in the department of Campus Living & Learning since 2002. Garrett said the university is purposeful in its plans behind the first-year on-campus residency requirement.

“The first-year residency requirement started in fall 2004 as part of Baylor’s 10 year vision plan called ‘Baylor 2012,’ in which 12 different university imperatives were established to aid in Baylor becoming a Tier 1 university that still maintained its Christian heritage,” she said. “One of the 12 imperatives specifically called for Baylor to become a ‘truly residential campus’ and to increase the number of undergraduates living in residential communities on Baylor’s campus.”

Under the current pandemic conditions, many other universities in other parts of the country, such as Chico State University and San Diego State University, made the decision not to require students to uphold their on-campus housing contracts in order to reduce the cases of the virus, no questions asked.

Baylor Campus Living & Learning, has asked students to continue to live on campus despite the pandemic’s conditions, unless they had previous grounds to dissolve the initial agreement. Garrett said her department afforded the freshman students the opportunity to leave the housing obligation if they needed to do so.

“In light of COVID, prior to the start of classes and move-in, Baylor allowed all new or returning students that were approved for an online only course schedule and assigned to on-campus housing, the opportunity to apply for a housing exemption and cancel their residence hall contract,” Garrett said. “For freshmen students approved for all online courses, the exemption was granted for the fall semester only.”

Garrett additionally said first-year students who are either are graduates from a McLennan County high school who want to live with a guardian who lives in the county, 21 years old or more before the first day of classes, married or are in charge of dependents can be exempt from the housing requirement if they complete the Application for Residency Exemption to Campus Living & Learning. This non-related COVID-19 chance for housing exemption is available every year for first-year students.

Despite the pandemic, some students said they truly believe the housing mandate has been a blessing in a multitude of ways.

Waco freshman Raegan Null lives on the north second floor of Collins Residence Hall this year. Null said she believes the obligation for her class to live on campus for their first year is practical and welcomed.

“It makes sense to have all first-year students on campus so they can get involved as much as possible with activities on campus,” Null said.

Jacksonville, Fla., sophomore Mary Watson is a community leader on the north second floor of Collins Residence Hall.

“I think living on campus is important especially for first-year students because it allows them to build community, create authentic relationships and expose themselves to people of different backgrounds,” Watson said. “I’ve seen it in action because I’ve been able to help facilitate community between residents, while also providing them with resources to get to know one another better and to get involved on campus.”

Null said she too admits while the unparalleled circumstances of the pandemic have certainly altered her experience, the requirement has compelled her to reach out to her fellow classmates more than she would have if she had lived off-campus.

“Although it has been hard to make friends with COVID guidelines in the dorm, I believe it would be even harder to meet people if I were to live off campus,” Null said. “With COVID I believe living off campus would make it even more difficult to meet people, specifically other freshman.”

Even though she is in closer quarters than she could be off-campus, Null said she additionally believes Baylor’s efforts have contributed to the positivity of her experience residing on-campus thus far.

“I believe Baylor has done a great job preventing COVID outbreaks, and I feel extremely safe living in my dorm,” Null said.

Also, Garrett said in a more “typical” school year, an average of more than three-quarters of those who resided on campus are satisfied with their Baylor housing experience, and only seem to have one major concern: finances.

“Data collected from February 2020 indicated that that 86.7% of all residents, [about] 4,500, were satisfied with living on campus and 85% of students said they would recommend living on campus to new students,” she said. “Overall, cost of housing is the largest concern for student satisfaction.”

Null said she too predicts she will be content with her on-campus freshman year living experience.

“My on-campus experience will make my freshman year memorable, and I’m very thankful for the girls I have met in Collins,” Null said.