New housing changes help first-year students find common ground

by Jennifer Johnson,

A shake-up in housing will take place at Willamette this fall.

To forge stronger connections with classmates and better tie residential programming to academic activities, first-year students will live only in east-side residence halls — Terra, Belknap, Cascadia and Matthews halls and Baxter Complex — called First-Year Commons.

Sophomores and older students will be located in other halls around campus. Any first-year student overflow will be moved into the WISH house, and Shepard House might not be available, depending on demand.

Director of Housing and Community Life Scott Etherton says a first-year-only living area makes events like Opening Days flow more smoothly, and it also creates opportunities for programs that will help students beyond socializing.

“We want students to develop strong bonds with the first-year cohort socially and get residential support to meet their goals academically,” he says. “We want better retention of students who arrive in August.”

Details are still being finalized, but some programs will help students better prepare for class, while others will help students understand their personal strengths and interests.

Student leaders will use the activities provided in the halls to guide suggestions for on-campus roles and activities for first-year students. New students can use the same process to help figure out their major, consider a future career and even manage conflict with roommates. “We want to set up students well and in a holistic way to be successful at Willamette,” Etherton says.

Currently, a committee is meeting to further develop the First-Year Commons program.

Faculty interested in participating in program opportunities can contact Etherton at swetherton@willamette.edu.

The Residence Hall Association (RHA) also plays a role in first-year programming. “RHA is a great way for first-year students to get involved in their community and explore leadership opportunities in housing,” says RHA President Jack Wellman ’18, who adds that the association seeks to become a vehicle for student input on residential issues and decisions that impact students.

RHA, which aims to provide leadership opportunities and programs for all students, wants to fill spots for hall representatives and other positions this fall. An election for its new board of directors will be held April 10. Students who have questions or recommendations for RHA elections can contact Wellman at jwellman@willamette.edu. RHA meetings are held at 8 p.m. every Monday in the Montag Den.

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