When Michael Roth came to the WSA to discuss the class expansion issue, I found myself pondering an anecdote my father told me when I was looking at colleges. A resident of blue-collar Akron, Ohio, my father was fortunate enough to attend a small liberal arts school of around 1,500 students. One day, he caught up with a fellow high school classmate who attended the massive Ohio State University and asked, “Isn’t it kind of intimidating to attend a school with 35,000 students?” His classmate just shrugged.
“Your circle of friends and acquaintances is around forty people at the most, right?” he asked my father, who nodded. “Mine is too. The only difference is I have more people to ignore.” With that in mind, I do not believe that the expansion will affect most students on a day-to-day basis.
Don’t get me wrong––I don’t want Wesleyan to become Ohio State by any means. I’m not in favor of the expansion. However, I also do not feel right opposing it yet. I think more information should be made available on the matter, as does most of the WSA. How exactly will the proposed expansion affect housing for all four years? Wes students deserve to know.
I anticipate that the endowment losses will get much worse over the next four years. I hate to say it, but I fully expect every budget to be cut in one way or another, including financial aid. I view financial aid as the “sacred cow” of Wesleyan’s budget: the student body cannot let it be hurt in any way.
I’ve had discussions with friends who pay full tuition. Some will be forced to become financial aid candidates for the next year. At this critical time, choosing the right battles becomes an important part of the WSA’s efforts to keep a Wesleyan education an affordable and rich experience. As of now, I see that an attitude of ambivalence towards expansion to be the prudent thing to do.
Preserving financial aid is the front line in this fight. The $15.5 million in budget cuts has to come from somewhere––if we cannot increase revenue, the money will come out of what we hold the most dear about our school––financial aid, and faculty salaries. When thinking of cuts, we must be selfless enough to know that individual comfort can afford to be slightly compromised for the good of economic justice in financial aid policy.
While the WSA works to inform the administration on what budget cuts students would find most unacceptable, I feel that expansion, while certainly not a good thing, may be a necessary last resort. Yes, there would be a housing crunch that would lead to uncomfortable living for a few years. The rooms that would be tripled would be cramped. Bradley Spahn, our indefatigable coordinator, has expounded on several flaws inherent in triple rooms in his own recent post.
In addition to Bradley’s concerns about changes to the quality of student life, I have friends in triples at other schools who have experienced what I call the “2:1 Effect.” Inevitably, the two roommates most similar to each other will gang up on the third roommate whenever an unresolved issue arises. Triples aren’t always fun. They increase one’s potential for a jerk roommate by 50 percent, after all.
But then again, roommates can bicker in a double as well. Students can be miserable in a single, even a spacious one. The quality and personality of the accepted students matters, not the rooms in which they live together. Boarding at college is always a mixed bag that requires students to exercise maturity and flexibility. But aren’t those two skills invaluable in life? Negotiating difficult situations with a roommate (or two) today will teach tomorrow’s activists, artists, businesspeople and politicians how to cooperate with people they cannot stand but must get along with for the common good.
I also do not agree with the argument that intellectual connections would be negatively affected by tripling. Intellectual energy and discourse on campus is an almost hormonal force––it will work its way out of a student no matter what. If we lose intellectually vigorous discussion in dormitory rooms, then perhaps it will appear in laundry rooms, student lounges, and Usdan tables instead. Wesleyan students are too curious not to find a way to talk about what fascinates them. We’re too good to let triples kill our desire for truth.
To put it bluntly: yes, triples suck. But being forced out of Wesleyan because one cannot afford to pay their tuition bills is even worse. If you were to ask any student whose heart is fully set on Wesleyan whether they would rather live in a triple or not attend at all, they would likely choose that triple without hesitation. Wesleyan students at large should embrace that feeling of sacrifice and be open to making the toughest choices of them all––knowing what to give up for the greater good and how to do it. If that means letting the school expand by 30 students per class, so be it.