Residential Life changes occupancy priorities

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By: Kate Rogers, News Editor 

Due to an increased focus on Living Learning Communities (LLC) over occupancy, several spaces in Anderson Hall were left open for a small period of time after the semester began.

President Cummings stated that this year’s orientation week was the best organized and most successful he had ever seen in his September 3rd Monday Missive (Tuesday edition). However, these empty rooms caused concern among students as word spread due to a significant increase of students in enhanced occupancy rooms.

Christina Lowery, the Director of Residential Life, said that it is uncommon to start the year with empty rooms. Last year this did not happen because reslife was prioritizing occupancy over the Living Learning Communities. This year, reslife prioritized LLC communities.

“We find if we don’t value it up front then the students don’t value it either and it really is so important,” Lowery said.

All the dorms have been filled as of Sept. 13.

The empty spaces in the honors hall at the beginning of this semester were due to a lower number of roommate requests from honors students. Along with this, resident life had more conversations with students in different learning communities who were requesting to room together about the possible benefits of choosing the educational experience over the roommate. Because of this, many of them chose to go to their separate communities instead. Lowery said that the decision to put non-honors students into Anderson hall was not made without a conversation with the students about what they were committing to. The honors living learning community specifically has a dedication

USM has been using the LLC system since 2013, according to Lowery. There are nine sections of the residential halls dedicated for students with similar goals and interests. For example, the creativity LLC focuses on connecting students with other creative people, the creative community at USM and the local arts community. The rainbow community (of which there is both a first year and upper class section) is for students looking to connect with the LGBTQIA+ community. The Health LLC is for students interested in athletics, wellness and nursing.

The LLC requires a COR lab, which is a series of projects and trips designed to connect students with the USM community and greater Portland, according to the USM website. The most notable impact according to Lowery is that these communities have significantly increased the amount of students who stay at USM long enough to get their degree, positively impacting their academic success. According to the USM website, the LLC increase connectivity with other students and with professors and mentors.

When Lowery started three years ago, she said that there were only a few enhanced occupancy spaces. That has increased every year due mostly to students choosing to return to campus for housing rather than living off campus. These spaces come in two forms; one is rooms designated to house students that are occupied by a higher number than was originally intended, the other are rooms that were not originally intended to house students. The reason they do not cut off housing at its limit and accept these overflow students is because, “by saying no to someone’s housing we could be saying no to someone’s education.”

“We try our hardest to make sure all the spaces are equitable … but that also in some ways is just not quite possible,” Lowery said. “Every building is different. All of the spaces are different.”

The new residence hall in Portland that will hopefully be built in 2022 will have 550 spaces which, according to Lowery, will more than fix this overflow problem. As far as an effort to make spaces more equitable, Lowery hopes that the new software they are adapting to make choosing housing more accessible will help. The software will allow gender inclusive housing to be chosen online and will lessen the amount of students competing to choose a house at one time.

As far as general quality of life on campus is concerned, Lowery said “there is a continued effort to revitalize the residence halls that are on the Gorham campus.” There was a significant renovation in Woodward over the summer, Anderson’s lounge received a revamp the summer before and there are plans for Robie Andrews for the summer coming.

“Especially with the enhanced occupancy we really want to make sure that people really feel like those lounges are their living room,” Lowery said. She wanted people to know that the plans for the new residence hall in Portland will not dampen efforts to continue making Gorham halls better.

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