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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Michael Lozada
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Clash between College policy and student demands causes difficulty in navigating the off-campus housing process

Gregory Garcia
Houses on High Street are some of the most in-demand properties for students looking to live off-campus. Photo by Shabana Gupta.

The opportunity to live off-campus for upperclassmen is an exciting prospect, but one that falls largely out of control of the students. In fact, the timeline of the process provides a degree of uncertainty to students who plan to live off campus.

In the coming weeks, Grinnell students will receive a randomly assigned room draw number grouped by class year via email. Shortly thereafter, students will receive an off-campus permission request form. After collecting completed responses to this request form, Housing Operations will rank all students who have requested off-campus permission by their room draw number and make their first round of off-campus offers.

Joy Carroll and her husband Danny Carroll have been renting multiple properties in Grinnell to students for several years. Joy recognizes two main draws of off-campus housing: the freedom that comes with living with a group of friends off campus and the savings.

Still, there are factors beyond cost and greater independence that play into the desire to live off campus. In 2016 Grinnell changed its drinking policies to prohibit any alcohol in the college dormitories or lounges. With this policy in place, the partying scene on campus shifted primarily to off-campus houses. “When you push partying off campus, then more people are going to want to live off campus,” said Audrey Boyle ’21.

If these benefits appeal to students though, it’s necessary to plan early. Students often approach the Carrolls as early as a year before they intend to live off campus and sometimes earlier.

“It’s better to plan early. It’s better for you to call me and say ‘I’m interested in this house, I’m just in the fall of my junior year but I want it in another year.’ … Whatever you do, don’t wait ‘til spring of your junior year. By then we’re probably already committed,” said Joy Carroll.

While it’s important for students to plan in advance to make arrangements to live off-campus, making commitments is difficult when approval for off-campus housing isn’t granted until the spring of the year before.

Director of Residence Life Dennis Perkins and Assistant Director of Housing Operations Lauren Myers stated in an email to The S&B that “Residence Life releases students from their residential requirement as early as possible in the spring semester in order to provide time to seek out a lease agreement. Because our system of releasing students is based on room draw number, it is not possible to make off-campus permission offers before the spring semester. However, the timeline of the off-campus leasing process itself is determined by students and their landlords so we have limited influence on when leases are signed. Knowing this, we just try to be sure that students are aware of the on-campus residential requirement and encourage them to make the most informed choices possible when seeking out off-campus leasing agreements.”

On average, the college releases about 215 students to live off-campus for the academic year. This number changes depending on projected enrollment, occupancy and on-campus housing availability. Because of the limited slots, students who plan to live off-campus often are not granted permission despite the long-term planning involved before room draw.

Renting to students is often more of a bargain for individual students than the renters. Joy says students who come to her are often in a group of friends, and if one person falls through someone else who’s been granted approval often takes their place. “We’ve never had anything completely fall through because so many students couldn’t get approved,” said Joy.

The reason behind the College’s decision to allow a limited number of students permission to live off campus is the college’s residential status. “Grinnell College is committed to the importance of residential learning as an integral part of the experience here, and we hope that students who are drawn to a school like Grinnell with a residential requirement will benefit from the co-curricular learning that comes with living on-campus. However, we would not necessarily try to encourage or discourage the experience of living on-campus for any individual third or fourth-year student, as personal experiences can vary,” wrote Myers and Perkins.

Students seeking residential accommodations of any kind work directly with Student Disability Resources. Students like Boyle who are seeking an off-campus accommodation are required to demonstrate to Student Disability Resources that they have a need that cannot be met through on-campus housing.

Boyle is one of few third-year students who live off-campus. Boyle first applied to live off-campus through the normal process, but because of her status as a third year she knew the chances were unlikely. Boyle then went through the accommodations process with Student Disability Resources and had her care provider send in a letter. Still, even such verification does not guarantee off-campus housing.

“They said no, or they were like, ‘Okay, well we’ll try to find you housing on campus that fulfills these needs.’ They said they were going to put me in a project house or a language house and I was like, ‘Why would you want someone in a project or a language house that isn’t [interested in the project aspect]?’ … Coding House doesn’t want me.” After a lot of emails with Student Disability Resources, Boyle had a second letter written by her care provider before getting approved to live off campus.

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