It's been an interesting year for rez kids.
Earlier this year, several prominent Community Advisors were fired, failing to meet the academic requirements of the position, despite widespread protest from inhabitants ("Rez leaders get booted for low grades," Amanda Hu, Jan. 18, 2007). It was then revealed that many of the buildings are just barely below "condemned" status ("Rez seeks property tax exemption," Sara Hanson, March 8, 2007) and just this week it was announced that planned renovations for the Brewster, Castle and Norquay buildings will be delayed at least a year.
These are only the three most recent complaints in a long list of issues that make residence life less than ideal. There are the intentional 6 a.m. fire drills and the unplanned 3 a.m. fire drills. There are the rock-hard mattresses, the mediocre food and the draconian rules on topics ranging from halogen lamps to marijuana use. Then there's the mandatory meal plan for first-year students, which ultimately ties them to eating at Chartwells locations as they become acclimatized to university. Finally, there's the fact that it costs more to live in rez than to rent a house with a couple of friends.
Granted, the university has put money back into some of the residence buildings. This can be seen in the updated lounges of Rundle and Kanaskis halls and the various renovations to the dining centre, as well as the university's recent decision to stop charging a 5.5 per cent levy on top of rez fees. Unfortunately, most of these efforts only benefit first-year students. After that, students are shoved into the dimly-lit Glacier, Olympus, Norquay, Brewster and Castle halls, or the pricier Cascade, which is in perpetual need of renovation. According to rumour, it's sinking into the ground. All these buildings are in dire need of attention, yet it will be at least a year until they get it.
It's easy to point fingers for the sorry state of affairs--usually in the direction of Residence Services, Campus Infrastructure, the provincial government or the Calgary housing market itself--but the problems persist. It is increasingly difficult for students to find affordable housing in Calgary and residence is supposed to be an ideal place for students to live, especially for those lacking furniture. Furthermore, with City Hall still wringing its hands over whether or not to allow basement suites after almost a year of debate on the topic, it seems the housing situation for Calgary students is going to get worse before it gets better.
So, what needs to be done? For the moment, the university needs to reinvest some of the $580,000 a year it's been receiving from students staying in rez back into the buildings in ways beyond merely PR-friendly esthetic improvements. Even just replacing the lighting in the Glacier, Olympus, Norquay, Brewster and Castle buildings so students can read without the aid of illicit halogen desk lamps would greatly improve conditions.
The fact these buildings are deteriorating with no reprieve in sight should be of concern to the entire campus community, as residence is one of the few cohesive communities in an otherwise commuter campus. Despite stereotypes of rez-dwellers being slackers and party animals, they are also the demographic that puts the most back into the university. Rez kids run for student government more than anyone else, they are most involved with student clubs and nobody spends more time and money at the Den. The university needs to take the steps necessary to ensure that rez kids are able to live and study in a safe, comfortable and enriching environment.