Penn will require all undergraduate sophomore students to live on campus in college houses starting with the Class of 2024 students, who will arrive on campus in 2020. The implementation will happen after the construction of New College House West, which is expected to open in the fall of 2021 and house around 450 students.
The decision, which is part of an initiative to create a "Second Year Experience Program" for sophomore students, was released to student leaders on the Undergraduate Assembly Steering Committee at a meeting in Huntsman Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 25, said UA President Michael Krone. Four student leaders present independently confirmed this to The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Administrators said at the meeting they planned to announce the news in an email on Thursday, but later sent a school-wide email confirming the decision 15 minutes after this story was first published at 2:05 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.
"We believe that a two-year College House system will measurably strengthen the sense of community among our first- and second-year students – promoting students’ achievement and well-being, enhancing support for students’ academic and social lives," wrote the email, which was signed by Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett.
Communications representatives from the President's Office and the Provost's Office did not respond to requests for more details on the decision on Wednesday.
Until this point, only freshman students have been required to live on campus. According to data provided by Penn Business Services in 2017, about 4,800 students, or 60 percent of sophomores, juniors, and seniors, live outside of college residences every year. These include the hundreds of students who live in chapter houses for on-campus Greek institutions.
Greek leaders from Panhellenic Council and from Interfraternity Council met with administrators earlier on Tuesday to discuss the implications this decision would have on Greek life at Penn, said Krone, a College senior. The conversation was mediated by Jazmyn Pulley, the director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Penn, as well as Rob Nelson, the executive director for Education and Academic Planning.
Krone said the administration acknowledged that the plan would have a particularly large impact on Greek life. He noted one of the main concerns raised was that Greek houses on campus typically house sophomores. If sophomores are no longer able to live in these chapter houses, Greek institutions may struggle to fill their houses and eventually be at the risk of losing them, he added.
Krone said at the Tuesday evening meeting, Provost Pritchett emphasized the purpose of the plan is to create a better experience for sophomore students, who do not have as many class-wide or community programs as their freshman- or junior-year peers.
Pritchett also said this plan follows a recommendation from the Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community, which convened after off-campus fraternity OZ sent sexually suggestive emails to freshman women in September 2016. The policies that rose from the task force recommendations relating to alcohol and off-campus groups garnered significant attention and backlash last year.
After Pritchett discussed the University’s plans at the UA meeting, students expressed various concerns relating to the implementation of the plan. One Penn junior present at the meeting said nearly every comment and question was critical.
Among their concerns was the relative cost of living on campus versus off campus, Krone said. Many students choose to move out of college houses after their first year because they are able to negotiate cheaper rents with landlords or find housing arrangements that allow them to cut down on costs.
After the administrators left, those present in the Huntsman Hall lecture room quickly came to the consensus that the University had already decided to move forward with this policy and shifted gears to discuss how to optimize the implementation of it in the next three years, the Penn junior said.
Krone said he believed the “what” and “when” of the plan are already set in stone but the “how” is for student leaders to decide. Krone urged students to email him directly with suggestions so he can present them to the administrators.
"Basically what they said is this is the policy change that’s going to happen. We understand that. We understand there’s a lot of room for improvement, we really want to hear student input and student voices into how to actually make this happen and make this successful," he said.
Penn’s announcement on sophomore housing comes on the heels of several other controversial administrative decisions this semester. In August, the Wharton administrators announced that Huntsman Hall would no longer be open 24 hours in an effort to promote mental wellness, a controversial decision that prompted backlash for weeks. At the time, Wharton student leaders said they had expressed their disapproval of the decision months before the announcement.
This is a developing story that was last updated at 2:35 p.m. on Sept. 26. Check back here for updates.