Will the Second Year Experience Program have air conditioning? Will the sophomores living in this new facility be forced to also purchase dining plans? Will the environment of the promised “social, intellectual, and cultural connections” take the place of the meaningful living experiences sophomores have previously attained by choosing to live with upperclassmen? As a current sophomore living off campus, paying my own rent and my own tuition to Penn, I wonder how far Penn will encroach upon the lives of its students in coming years. The policy of sophomores being required to live on campus may only be the beginning of further regulations on what I believe to be our adult lives.
The Second Year Experience Program is being presented as an effort to strengthen the sense of community among second-year students, while enhancing student support and fostering diverse opportunities across academic and social spheres. That sounds great. But let’s break it down a bit.
Seeing as I had no roommate, I lived alone on the fourth floor of Kings Court my freshman year. I hibernated through the winter with only my Cheez-Its and reading to keep me company. I recognize having a single room in a dorm is a blessing just as much as it is a curse, but I also recognize that my freshman year was one of the most isolating years of my life, despite me living in a campus dorm building whose floors are dedicated to Residential Programs. Yes, I got to know my hallmates due to our simple proximity to one another, and some of them continue to be my close friends. But, I don’t feel the need to perpetuate this living configuration in order to ensure my friendship with them.
The words “enhancing support for students’ academic and social lives” seems to me a tidy way of cleaning up the mess that is many students’ mental health here at Penn. Forcing sophomores to live on campus, uncurling their fingers from around the keys to apartments or fraternity houses that they can’t wait to own, is not the way to improve student support on this campus. That just isn’t a solution that will work for everybody.
The floor of my freshman dorm was dusted in eraser shavings from many sleepless nights of diary-writing. The diary-writing was a product of the stress and loneliness that sometimes consumed me, despite having freshman neighbors literally three feet to my right or left. Moving off campus this year was better for my mental health, and ultimately allows me to live in a more affordable location with my best friend who is not in my year. If this policy had been enacted for my sophomore year, neither of those things would have been possible, and the floor of my sophomore dorm would have probably been littered with worse things than eraser shavings.
New on-campus housing built with the intention of fostering a better sophomore community sounds like a great idea — if said sophomores are offered a choice about participation. Some personalities are conducive to living in dorm-like communities and thrive off the constant activity and social events. Some people find it more affordable to live in an apartment. The sophomore community being championed by this new policy promises to “help students develop smart, sound habits.” Again, that sounds great, but forcing students to fit their natural habits into the mold of what Penn thinks a “smart” sophomore should be is not the way to encourage or support them.
The “self-discovery” and “enrichment” that the Second Year Experience Program is promising can be found and defined in so many different ways, and I think it’s a shame that an institution with so many diverse students doesn’t realize that these diverse students have diverse needs. Penning them in is not the right way to help all students thrive.
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College sophomore from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email is email@example.com.
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