The room selection process for the ’23-24 school year at St. Olaf left many students feeling unsettled. The process started on April 24 and finished on May 4. Although many students were able to find the housing they needed, issues arose with certain housing expectations students had for next year.
This year, Christopher L. Medley became Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life, succeeding Pamela McDowell. The combination of a new Dean in charge of housing selection and new residence halls seems to have created a chaotic housing process.
Townhouses seemed to be in very high demand for next year, which impacted the earliest Ytterboe Hall draw as well. Junior Caroline Geer ’24 wrote in an email interview, “We had an early draw time with nine of our pod ages being seniors. We figured we would have a problem since we only wanted a Ytterboe Pod and we’re not trying for a townhouse. Upon logging in, we were unable to get a room. There was an error in the roommate matching.”
Geer’s problem up being solved after a conversation with Dean Medley – her group was placed in a pod the day after the draw. Other students who spoke with the Messenger indicated problems with triple suite selection and double assignments, with a few freshmen being assigned to the draw for the wrong gender.
Additionally, students with accomodations through the Disability and Accomodations (DAC) office had issues with the selection system and getting their needs met. An anonymous student shared with the Messenger, “My roommate who is registered with DAC for important health needs, never heard back from DAC… So me and my roommate decided we would just do a regular room draw. Our draw time was for 6:31pm, but when that time came around there was nothing left. This whole situation has been stressful and upsetting for me and my roommate because we just want to make sure she can get what she needs to live healthy on campus.”
Another DAC-registered student also faced miscommunications with the housing office. Elizabeth Schoen ’24 wrote in an email interview, “The housing process this year was a disaster, and even now it doesn’t feel over because I did not get my needs met as needed for next year, not yet at least. Medley wanted to place me in a single room, which was not my preference due to certain mental health issues, and my awareness of the high demand for singles on campus. My need was a larger space and community space with people … and I needed a bigger room to accommodate my service animal… Our time to pick was assigned for 7:20 but as 7:20 rolled past the person who was selecting said that there was nothing left. Medley finally placed me in New Hall 347 which would be fine but it is on the third floor not near an elevator and nowhere near the exit. I messaged him about this and he told me there was nothing he could do and that he would put me on a waitlist to be moved. That is my current housing plan”.
In an in person and email interview exchange with Dean Medley he expressed how miscommunications happened throughout the process. He said that “words matter, and I should have made sure that what I was trying to say was what students were hearing.”
He added that “The new things we added, including the roommate socials, were actually a success.” It appears that from the Residence Life perspective a lot of the turmoil was a natural part of competition for rooms, not a system wide act of dysfunction.
Medley wrote that “DAC Accommodation has two components. Being notified that your accommodations have been approved or denied is managed by DAC. Being placed in your specific housing assignment is Residence Life. For the latter, placements for approved DAC accommodations were completed before Housing Selection began and was present in SIS. Students did not receive an individual communication of their housing assignment placement. This is a process that Residence Life will review.”
According to Medley, not a lot has actually changed from the process last year, despite the narrative around campus that everything is different.
Not every student was failed by the room draw process. Ana Welge ’25 said “We’re all grateful that we have a room, but it just was a bumpy process”. Many students who spoke to the Mess about housing issues also had their initial problems resolved by Dean Medley by the end of the week. The biggest concern with housing moving forward is the ability of students working with DAC to maitina of get accommodations. As for next year, Dean Medley seemed confident that he would continue to work on communication and the process for a smoother spring of 2024.