The Voice: Fall 2001

The Voice

Students return to home on campus

Sally Jongsma

North Hall received a major a facelift this summer, especially the lounge.  The contemporary redesign was done by alum Kristin (Boogerd) Mellema.     It’s an interesting irony that students always have opinions about where and how they live on campus, yet say that housing accommodations did not play a significant role in their decision about where to attend college. Senior Nick Vander Kwaak from Johnston, Iowa, says, “Housing is a plus, but it wasn’t a big deciding factor in where I went.”
    Sophomore Joya Gerritsma from St. Catharines, Ontario, answers “Not at all” to the question of whether housing affected her decision about where to go to college, then having second thoughts adds, “Maybe if it had been really bad it would have made a difference. Overall, the housing here is good,” says Gerritsma. Most students seem to agree, according to student services staff.
    Ken Boersma, vice president for student services who has had experience in both small college and large university residence life administration describes Dordt’s housing as exceptional.
    “One of the most positive things about our housing is the fact that it is maintained and updated so regularly,” he says. Many institutions defer maintenance on facilities and especially residence halls. Within the past few years, most of Dordt’s residences have been built new or significantly renovated. Replacement of carpeting and repainting is scheduled to happen on a regular basis.
    Students notice this commitment. Vander Kwaak says clean, spacious rooms are what he values most about where he lives. While he notes that not all Dordt rooms are as spacious as others, moving from residence halls as a freshman to apartment living as a senior—especially in Southview—allows students to have both. The clean, well-kept rooms are noted and appreciated by most students.
    First-year student Erin Houtsma from South Holland, Illinois, lives in East Hall with her roommate, Katie Boer. The entire hall was renovated a year ago, with new carpeting, paint, and lighting brightening the rooms. This summer attractive oak lofts were built into each room. While Houtsma says housing options had little effect on her decision to attend Dordt, she appreciates the cleanliness and upkeep of the residence halls. “Our room is very comfortable and feels like home,” she says. “The lofts make the room more spacious and inviting. It’s so much easier for Katie and me to be doing two different things in the room—like studying and sleeping—without feeling like we’re invading each others’ space.” This past summer North Hall received a similar renovation.
    Director of Resident Life Sandi Altena, who has stayed in numerous university residences at young people’s conventions, says that while the amount of space at Dordt is comparable to that at most other institutions, its upkeep is generally better. Yet she also notes that despite students’ general appreciation for such surroundings, amount of space or newness of rooms is not in the end the most important housing factor for most Dordt students.
    “What’s most important is where their friends are,” she says. In her experience with assigning rooms, almost all students would give up a better room for the opportunity to be where they want to be.
    “My favorite thing about living on campus is constant community,” says Vander Kwaak. “My friends are around me all the time, and whenever I want to talk to someone, they are within walking distance.”
    Freshman Andrew De Young from Minneapolis, Minnesota, agrees. “It’s not so much the physical aspects of college housing that make you feel comfortable, but the social aspects. The RA can make a big difference in making you feel at home and so can having really good next door neighbors.”
    Houtsma says, “Oddly enough, I really like having community bathrooms. It’s always open, and you don’t have to worry about a showering schedule. And you meet so many people by talking to them when you’re getting ready for bed. I think the most important thing about good housing is the sense of community and cleanliness. Dordt does a good job of both.”
    With 1200 students living on campus, that sense of community is crucial, says Altena. And it is something she and her residence life staff work at building very consciously.

    “Community experience is essential in the development of the whole person,” Altena says. Putting people in community is almost always a catalyst for growth, she believes. Even roommate conflicts can be good because they help individuals learn how to work through difficulties in life, she says.
    “I have a favorite line from one of Marva Dawn’s books that says something like ‘God puts people in our churches that we don’t like so that as Christians we learn how to love better.’ That applies to college communities too,” Altena says.
    Encountering differences and diversity are good for the maturing process, and even though Dordt students do not deal with as much diversity as students do at some schools, opportunities to grow through living in community are present. Altena says she encourages residence life counselors to help students in their wings and buildings not just tolerate diversity but celebrate it. That may present challenges on a campus where many people come from similar backgrounds, but it is worth doing, she says.
    But does having so many people living in such a small area present special problems? Not really, Altena says. In some ways it gives the residence life staff more opportunities to accomplish their goals. Resident assistants, each of whom is responsible for thirty-five to forty-five students, are trained to look for opportunities to engage students in discussions about problems they face in their living or studying and issues they confront through the news or in their classes.
    Much of the interaction is reacting to what is happening in students’ lives. “If we can help someone deal with conflict in a Christian way, we’ll have helped not only build community but helped a person grow,” says Altena. If they can encourage students in an informal way to critically think through political or cultural issues from a Christian point of view they will have done their job.
    The approach must be working, because few students even request to live off campus.
    “I would feel cut off if I didn’t live on campus,” says Gerritsma. “You never know when something fun is going to happen with your friends—and it usually happens spontaneously.” Altena can attest to the fact that in years when housing is tight, most groups of student who are housed off campus are not happy.
    “Students come here partly for the sense of community,” Altena says. Boersma adds, “The large percentage of students on campus really does give a sense of belonging, a sense of family.” That sense stays with many students long after they leave campus.

Women in Covenant Hall arrange their modular furniture in a variety of ways to make their rooms comfortable and homey.

    “Living together and getting to know a group of people who will be lifelong friends is an exciting time of life,” says Ken Boersma, vice president for student services. He and his staff work hard to complement the education students are gaining in the classroom with good living and learning experiences in the rest of their day. He is pleased with the options Dordt offers students both in physical facilities and community support. Living with people of varying interests and majors enriches the living experience, he believes.
    Dordt is somewhat unique for a school of its size, Boersma says, in that it provides different kinds of living situations. First and second-year students generally live in dormitory-style residence halls with two to a room and communal baths or four-person suites with their own bath. Most juniors and seniors live in apartments that vary in size but accommodate six people and allow students to do their own cooking. This is a bit unusual, says Boersma, since most colleges and universities require students living on campus to purchase a meal ticket.
    Boersma is also happy with the North Hall renovations of this summer. All residence halls now have direct Internet hook-ups, giving students more flexibility in choosing where they work. Next on the schedule of renovations is East Campus, completing the current round of updating in campus housing.

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