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Loose closes, Renfrow opens and Younker to transition in 2024

Younker+Hall+will+be+the+home+of+a+new+identity-based+community+floor+in+fall+2024.
Brisa Zielina
Younker Hall will be the home of a new identity-based community floor in fall 2024.

Grinnell College is introducing a wave of changes to residential life. New housing options — namely the downtown Renfrow Hall — aim to increase student engagement on campus and in the community while structurally upgraded halls aim to increase comfort and accessibility. As the last beams are fixed onto Renfrow, here are the three main changes to housing beginning fall 2024:

An LGBTQ+ floor on Younker Hall

Younker Hall, home to the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC), will house a new LGBTQ+-themed floor in the same basement. Students who choose to live on that floor will form an identity-based community, enjoying access to specific programming targeted at increasing the visibility of minority groups at the College.

Dennis Perkins Jr., assistant dean of residence life and student conduct, explained that the concept of “themed floors” in college residential halls is not new. Citing examples of sustainability-themed and honor-student floors at other colleges, he said that the SRC’s established presence in Younker had resulted in the decision to kick off Grinnell’s first themed floor program with an LGBTQ+ theme.

The entrance to the Stonewall Resource Center, an LGBTQ+ community space, in the basement of Younker Hall (Brisa Zielina)

Perkins had noted that most LGBTQ+ programming in residence halls were organized solely by the SRC, with little residence life services involvement. “I want to change that,” Perkins said.

From preliminary conversations with SRC staff, Perkins added he had learned many new things already. For instance, “there are some challenges with different classes, with race — sometimes they don’t blend, and I didn’t realize that was a thing,” he said.

However, Perkins said he remains excited. “We’re educators, so we can find better ways to program in that space,” he said. “These are good problems to me.”

“It’s just a community that people don’t know a lot about, even if Grinnell is very open. You can’t really hold intellectual conversation about it if you’re not part of that group. So we want to expose it a bit more.”

According to Perkins, another community Residence Life is considering for a second potential themed floor is first-generation college students, after at least 35 students had applied to live in the First Gen project house last year. However, nothing has yet been set in stone.

Renfrow Hall: The push for civic engagement opportunities 

With “biophilic elements” like a multi-story green wall and roof interwoven into a contemporary apartment-style building design, Renfrow Hall is set to become the new “focal point” of civic engagement programs at Grinnell, according to College President Anne F. Harris.

She and leaders across several College administrative departments, including Residence Life and the Center for Careers, Life and Services — who have spearheaded much of the new hall’s planned programming — formally revealed plans for the building at an information session organized on Wednesday, Feb. 8.

Named after Edith Renfrow Smith `37, the new hall will house just over 100 students in apartment-style living. Students must apply individually or in a group of four and will be selected by the strength of the essays they submit in a special application. Priority will be given based on seniority. 

Residents will have the chance to work with the Social Innovator in Residence and existing campus-community partnerships like Build a Better Grinnell 2030 or The Listening Project. A $3 million gift from Steve Howell `63, in honor of his sister Kathy Howell `61, has also supported the creation of the Kathy Howell Civic Innovation Pavilion, a space in Renfrow where College and town members can convene for dialogues and discussions.

“Most colleges, especially small liberal arts colleges in rural settings, always kept a campus to themselves, separate from the community,” Harris said. “We’re trying to figure out other ways … to translate our education into meaningful change.”

In an interview with The S&B, Perkins said that he believed this on-campus, apartment-style option was a good compromise between regular residence halls and completely independent off-campus housing.

Administrators repeatedly emphasized that Renfrow would be a truly intentional living and learning space. Through dialogue and relationship building, students passionate about civic engagement would connect with each other and the larger Grinnell community, exploring topics like identity and difference. They also revealed that their eventual goal was to have the Renfrow Hall students create their own programming for community engagement.

“We’re trying to get away from this idea of just doing random programs,” said Perkins. “We want students not to always be in their books … Meet with the community, come up with an idea and do it together.”

“Our goal isn’t 100 different projects — that’s not sustainable,” added Myrna Hernandez, chief of staff and vice president of administration. “The goal is to think about how to create community events that are beneficial.”

Administrators present at a Feb. 7 information session on Renfrow Hall fielded questions on living arrangements and applications. They were, however, stumped by a question on why Renfrow students were still expected to be on full meal plans despite having kitchens in each apartment.

“We’re going to be working on it,” said Harris. “That’s all I know.”

Increasing accessibility and air conditioning

Loose Hall will be closed for a year, beginning summer 2024, to undergo major structural renovations similar to the Norris Hall renovation project of 2022. 

Christopher Bair, environmental and safety manager, wrote in an email to The S&B that by fall 2025, Loose residents will be welcomed into a fully accessible building with a new elevator, suite-style room options and centralized air-conditioning.

Bair explained that South Campus was chosen for renovations as it was the only cluster that had yet to have a fully accessible dorm. He said that Loose had been the best option because it was “the only one on South you could put an interior elevator in” without having to construct extensions.

Perkins added that because Loose had so many singles, administrators are currently considering an “opportunity” to convert several rooms into suites, giving students more on-campus variety. He revealed that the Loose renovations had originally been part of a larger 10-year plan to structurally renovate all of South Campus, but that the plan was no longer happening.

“They’re going to stop at Loose … and start looking at individual spaces,” he said. “Main probably will be the next one, but they might move to the north, just so they’re not all in one area.”

The decision to start renovations this year was also partially influenced by the timeline of the Renfrow Hall project, said Bair and Perkins. The opening of Renfrow in the fall will be expected to compensate for the loss of roughly 100 beds from Loose. 

Perkins and Bair additionally mentioned that there had been further plans by facilities management to equip all dorms with air conditioning in the summer — not just Loose. However, Perkins later wrote in an email to The S&B that such plans were not yet confirmed.

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About the Contributors
Natalie Ng, Staff Writer
Natalie is a first-year from Singapore who intends to major in anthropology and biology. She never suffers from jet lag because her sleep schedule is messed up in all timezones. Once, she rolled down a hill and survived.
Brisa Zielina, Staff Photographer
Brisa Zielina is a first year and an aspiring Theater major with a concentration in American Studies from Los Angeles, California. She loves singing and acting and uses the word “slay” way too often. When she’s not slaying the day, she’s probably in rehearsal or studying on the third floor of the HSSC. If you see her around campus, say howdy, she’s always happy to make new friends!
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