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May 14, 2019

Dean of Students Gives Housing Updates to Inter-House Council


A rendering of Woodlawn Residential Commons, currently under construction.

Courtesy of The University of Chicago

In a rare public appearance with students, Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen visited an Inter-House Council meeting on May 7. Rasmussen discussed various aspects of campus life—including Woodlawn Residential Commons, the two-year housing requirement, and student health facilities—and heard from house representatives.

Rasmussen opened by stating that the construction of the new Woodlawn Residential Commons, which the University plans to open in September 2020, is a priority for her office. The facility will house roughly 1,300 students and include its own dining hall, which will also be the new location for International House house tables.

“South of the Midway, you’ll see that there is a pretty enormous building going up. Every time I go by there, I’m stunned at how much it looks like a real dormitory,” Rasmussen said. “This is part of a multiyear project that demonstrates the University’s commitment to a particular type of housing model. I recognize not everyone is onboard with it, but it is the one that we are moving forward with, and [we are] committed to ensuring it is a model for other institutions.”

Rasmussen said that administrators from Princeton, Cornell, John Hopkins, and Northwestern have conducted site visits to learn more about UChicago on-campus housing.

Rasmussen also commented on concerns about the two-year housing requirement starting this fall. “I think it’s a great development. I am in favor of students being able to live off campus at some point, but I think the first two years are really important for students to get their feet underneath them, to get familiar with all our campus has to offer and to feel connected to the community. Although not a universally held opinion…I will tell you that all the parents I’ve spoken to are ecstatic.”

Rasmussen announced plans for the new student health and wellness center that will open in 2020. All aspects of counseling, health, and health promotion will be housed in this facility.

As to short-term resolutions, Dean Rasmussen discussed the hiring of a health administrator who will lead a deep-dive investigation into health and wellness and the challenges that may be faced when accessing such services. This audit will lead to practice changes that will improve student health and wellness overall.

“His job is to understand the patient experience, the student experience of going to Student Health, [and] going to Student Counseling from the time you try to make an appointment.”

Dean Rasmussen also commented on the issue of overcrowding at athletics facilities like Ratner and Crown. She said that with class sizes growing, there are ongoing conversations about building a new athletic facility.

A house representative expressed concern about students living in Woodlawn Residential Commons lacking recreational space until a third gymnasium is built. The house representative suggested that workout spaces in various residences should be improved to compensate.

“It would certainly work as a stop-gap measure till we have the plans for a new facility. But there is a real bed crunch right now as we simply cannot accommodate the number of students who want to move on campus. Thus, taking rooms offline to serve that purpose isn’t feasible.” Rasmussen said.

Clarification on May 17, 2019, 10:20 a.m. CDT:

A University spokesperson contacted the Maroon to clarify that Dean Rasmussen misspoke and meant to say administrators from Cornell University, rather than Dartmouth College, conducted site visits. In addition, the article originally stated that the University will hire a "physician" to look into health and wellness services. The new position will be for a health administrator, not a medical doctor.

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