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Drawing the campus closer

March 19, 2003

By Brandi Dean

By 2012, Baylor plans to have added room for 2,500 more students to live on campus. But, in order to make them desirable places to live, the 10-year vision calls for the spaces to be vastly different from the 3,600 beds currently available.

The second of the 2012 Imperatives for Excellence is to 'Create a Truly Residential Campus,' which, according to Dr. Frank Shushok Jr., the associate dean for the Department of Campus Living and Learning, means a lot more than just providing more residence halls.

'If I were to define [a truly residential campus] for you, it's a place where a community, and the major components of that community, function on campus,' Shushok said. 'Where students live their life on campus, as opposed to a commuter campus, which Baylor has slowly become. It's bringing the center of activity and energy and enthusiasm to Baylor University's campus.'

To bring all this to campus, Shushok said they first need to bring the students, which is why he recently announced that the entire freshman class of 2004 will be required to live on campus for its first year at Baylor.

'Quite honestly, 95 percent of freshmen already live with us, but there's still that 5 percent that don't,' Shushok said. 'And what we know is that it matters.'

Shushok said research had shown that at Baylor 74.5 percent of freshmen who lived off campus stayed at Baylor for their sophomore year, compared to an 83.8 percent retention rate in the general student population. The numbers went up more for students who lived in a primarily freshman residence hall such as Collins Residence Hall or Penland Residence Hall - their retention rates were 90.5 and 86.6 percent, respectively.

'[Students on campus] make more friends - they feel more connected,' Shushok said.

Jaime Bashaw, a senior from the United Arab Emirates, said she knew from experience that freshmen living on campus are more involved. She spent the first semester of her freshman year in an apartment but moved into a dorm for the second semester because she thought she was missing out.

'The first semester, that's when everyone meets a million friends,' Bashaw said. 'In an apartment you feel secluded - like when you want to go to Wal-Mart. In the dorm there are 20 people who want to go with you. But in an apartment, it's just you and your roommate.'

With that in mind, Shushok said there is a possibility that the on-campus requirement may eventually be extended to include more than just freshmen. But before that can happen, he said the campus will need the space to accommodate that and the quality to make it desirable.

'Those feelings and experiences are magnified in proportion to the amount of time a student lives on campus,' Shushok said. 'Tier One institutions largely have living requirements, and for them it's usually beyond the freshman year. But even if we wanted to do something like that, we wouldn't have the capacity to do it right now. And we know that to get our sophomores and juniors to live on campus, we're going to have to provide a very different product.'

Shushok said the North Village Residence Hall will be an example of the very different product Baylor wants to provide.

'The general student population won't understand how drastic a difference we're talking about until they begin to see it,' he said. 'I think that the North Village is going to usher in a sense of excitement among our students in a way that hasn't been felt in a long time. The North Village is not simply a place for students to sleep and eat, it is an experience.'

To ensure that the changes were the ones that really mattered to students, Shushok said focus groups and student committees have had numerous chances for input in the various projects. Alicia Reyes, a Laredo sophomore, is a member of the Campus Living and Learning Committee. She said she has been very pleased with the seriousness with which the committee's suggestions were taken. She even was able to name specific examples.

'The laundry,' she said. 'We wanted laundry facilities to be more available. Once [the architects] figured out how important the laundry was to us, they made those changes. We have definitely been heard.'

The planning going into building that experience has included a change in name - from Residence Life to Campus Living and Learning - and a change in personnel - nationally recruited residence hall directors who have master's degrees in college student personnel, and community leaders rather than resident assistants. In addition, making a new commitment to diversity and marking half of the residence hall spaces for living-learning centers are signals of more changes on the way.

'The architects of 2012 did their homework and know that learning happens because people are together,' Shushok said. 'We knew that part of keeping people together so that learning could occur, both academically and extracurricularly and interpersonally, required people to spend more time together. All the things that are going to be happening require that people interact in an engaged way under the umbrella of Baylor's value and mission.'

But even with the changes, the new residence halls won't appeal to everyone. James Mendoza, a Dallas freshman, said even he would appreciate extending visitation hours further and relaxing the regulations on what appliances students can have in their rooms. But those changes still wouldn't be enough to keep him on campus for another year.

'It's just a matter of freedom and having your own place,' Mendoza said. 'And being able to have whatever you want in your place.'