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Ole Avenue Project set to reshape student housing

The 2022-2023 school year will move all honor houses into seven of the newly constructed townhomes or into pods in Ytterboe Hall. The honor houses residing in the townhomes will be Taylor Center’s ERITAJ and Lavender houses, the Boone House, and four language houses; the remaining language houses will be located in Ytterboe pods. 

The language programs have pushed back against these changes as they were offered less space, requiring different languages to combine into one house and some languages to reside in pods instead of townhomes. Language faculty are concerned with how these changes will affect the functionality of the honor house system that has seen a decrease this past school year. 

Between the demolition of honor houses for the Ole Avenue Housing Project, COVID-19 isolation housing, and the lack of student interest in service project housing, there have been only 10 honor houses during the 2021-2022 school year. Previously, there had been 19.

“It goes against the mission of the language houses,” said Professor and Department Chair of Norwegian and German Kari Lie Dorer. “Because the whole idea is students sign a pledge to only use the target language they are studying when they are there, and if they are sharing a space with another language, they can’t do that.”

Additionally, the language departments have struggled to make a decision on which languages would be located in the townhomes and which would be in the Ytterboe pods.

Each language honor house has an individual faculty member in charge of it, but there is no united board across all language programs. This has made it increasingly difficult for the language programs to voice their concerns about the changes.

“The reason our language programs are so strong at St. Olaf is because we don’t elbow each other out of different things,” Dorer said. “We want to make decisions together and we saw the value of coming up with a response as a united front.”

“These linguistic and culturally immersive environments are opportunities for students who can’t study abroad because of immigration status, or because of economic means, or other reasons. This may be their only opportunity,” said Professor of Spanish and Department Chair of Romance Languages Ariel Strichartz.

Current honor house residents have found their community at St. Olaf through the language houses. Helen White ’23 has lived in the Norwegian Honor House for the past two years. 

“I have loved living at the honor houses because it feels like a home to me,” White wrote in an email to the Messenger. “It is wonderful to be in an environment with students who care about the same things that you do and to be able to help the language departments by putting on programming. It truly is lovely to have a community where we all live together and speak the same language.”

Residence Life will continue to evaluate the role of honor houses and intentional living communities on St. Olaf’s campus throughout the next year according to Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life Pamela McDowell. The resident selection process and whether to bring back a service component for the townhomes are two considerations. Residence Life will also discuss implementing identity floors in residence halls instead of dedicated townhomes. 

“I think there is a neat opportunity for a lot of conversation about what we could be doing,” McDowell said. “And not just limiting [the townhomes] to languages — are there other academic reasons that groups want to come together or teams or ensembles? I think there is a lot of opportunity for conversation.”

The decision to dedicate some townhomes to not be honor houses comes from student survey results that drove decisions made in planning for the Ole Avenue Project. This student feedback propelled the decision to consider reserving some townhomes for regular room selection.

The delay in decisions regarding honor house availability and relocation of some honor houses to Ytterboe pods has decreased student interest in living in the houses. 

“In addition to all the preliminary issues, it took time to hear back about our concerns. This then further impacted interest — many students felt that they had to make an alternative housing plan because we couldn’t confirm their spot,” Dorer clarified in an email to the Messenger. “And for those languages that were chosen to be in Ytterboe, they ended up with very few students.”

Current honor house students argue that moving honor houses into Ytterboe pods is indicative of how the administration values the honor house program as a whole. 

“Essentially, [the administration] is saying that they consider language houses to be glorified friend groups and that we don’t do valuable work for our respective departments,” White wrote. “We provide co-curricular opportunities for language outside the classroom and often host events teaching students more about culture in a more relaxed, low-pressure setting. I don’t think [the administration] understands the value of that.”

Many of the old honor house buildings will undergo changes as well. 

“We might be renting some [houses], whether it’s to faculty, staff, that are here for a two year appointment or other community members that might need [it] and then some will get sold,” McDowell said. 

Other houses that can’t be renovated will be deconstructed. These deconstructed houses will be left open for greenspace on St. Olaf Avenue. 

McDowell said, regarding the removal of houses, “We want students to be able to have a lot of hangout [space] — whether it’s frisbee, whether it is just lounging around with adirondack chairs, whether it is we get some grills down there — it is [meant to be] recreation space.” 

Housing selection will begin on April 22.


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