Beginning fall 2021, undergraduates on campus will live in residential neighborhoods that support lasting friendships and community-building. The neighborhoods will intersect with a new frosh curriculum and campus-wide programming through the Town Center.
BY AMY ADAMS
Undergraduates coming to campus in the 2021-22 academic year will get their first experience with new residential neighborhoods that emphasize community and lasting friendships as central to their time at Stanford.
The new neighborhood structure – part of an initiative called ResX that reorganizes existing student housing to emphasize well-being and connectedness – will integrate with the Town Center project and a new first-year core curriculum to ground students in their role as citizens and create a sense of community for students and the entire campus. The three initiatives are all part of an increased focus on community and civic engagement embedded within the goals of the Long-Range Vision.
“As we make plans to bring students, faculty and staff back to campus, we’re prioritizing community, well-being and civic responsibility,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “The new residential neighborhoods, as part of our Long-Range Vision, will build equity and inclusion into the heart of residential life, and will provide opportunities for engaging with themes of ethics and civic responsibility central to the new curricular core.”
Plans for ResX arose through nearly 500 proposals submitted in the long-range planning process, followed by meetings with more than 500 students, alumni, faculty and staff who shared the importance of a sense of connectedness and well-being in the residential experience. In follow up interviews, focus groups and working groups, students emphasized the value of living with other first-year students to build a friend network and keeping friend groups intact throughout their time at Stanford.
In addition, the team engaged in a multi-year partnership with Jamil Zaki, associate professor of psychology, whose research demonstrated that students in all-frosh dorms have more interconnected social networks, and also report greater well-being than first-year students in other residential environments.
Coming out of that work, the team reimagined existing Stanford residences as neighborhoods, each composed of a combination of dorms, special interest houses, coops and Greek houses. The 8–10 neighborhoods will each have a central gathering place with access to advising, meeting space and dining options. In fall 2021, students moving into each neighborhood for the first time will establish their own themes, traditions, mascots, crests and swag. Each neighborhood will also be tasked with creating a community that is racially and socially just, and that promotes well-being and personal growth.
“ResX gives us a chance to restart how we want to build values-based communities,” said Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost for Student Affairs. “Today’s students can leave their mark and pave the way for future students.” She added that Stanford students never lack for creativity. “I really look forward to seeing what the students come up with,” she said.
First-year students arriving in 2021 will be assigned to an all-frosh dorm within a neighborhood that will become a social and intellectual home for their time at Stanford. Frosh can also request mixed-year theme homes, also within neighborhoods. Because frosh who started in 2020 couldn’t benefit from the ResX changes, current first-years who will be sophomores next year can opt to be placed in all-sophomore dorms.
Following their first year, groups of up to eight students can request assignments in proximity to each other, still within the same larger neighborhood of dorms and houses. This shift helps maintain bonds and friend groups. Upperclass students can leave their neighborhoods to live in a university-wide theme house, including an ethnic theme dorm, coop or Greek house, anywhere on campus for two of their three years – called a neighborhood abroad year.
Sarah Church, vice provost for Undergraduate Education, said the COVID-19 pandemic served to highlight the importance of the kind of community ResX will build. “The move to virtual amplified the need for connection,” she said. “Stanford is Stanford because of the people. It depends on lively, engaged, interconnected communities. We need a deliberate plan to bring us back together and it needs intentionality.”
The ResX team is still working through which existing dorms and houses will be grouped to form the different neighborhoods. However, they are planning to have each neighborhood include a combination of dorms, special interest houses, housed Greek-letter organizations and coops.
In addition, Residential & Dining Enterprises is designing a new housing assignments process for the neighborhoods that will support students in choosing a group of friends to live with. They expect to implement the new process during spring housing assignments.
“We are excited about the possibilities of building neighborhood communities and designing a new housing assignments process that supports the ResX principles. This will afford students the agency to expand the group of friends they choose to live with and deepen connections for a more enriched experience within their neighborhood communities while they are at Stanford,” said Shirley Everett, senior associate vice provost for Residential & Dining Enterprises.
In addition to the new residential neighborhoods, incoming frosh will take part in a new first-year core focusing on Civic, Liberal and Global Education (COLLEGE), which replaces the current Thinking Matters courses. The core will give all first years a shared intellectual experience and the opportunity to engage deeply with civic responsibility and global perspectives, and to grasp the value of a liberal education.
Some current frosh have enrolled in pilot COLLEGE courses this fall and winter. In the fall, 58 students enrolled in “Why College?” which explored the value and role of a liberal college education. Dan Edelstein, professor of French and Italian who is leading the initiative, said students who took the class came away with a better sense of what education meant to them. “It got them to decouple what you major in and what you are going to do with your life,” he said. In winter quarter, 51 students are enrolled in “Citizenship in the 21st Century,” which has sections being taught by faculty from four different departments.
Next year, all first-years will take one quarter of COLLEGE, and starting in 2022 all frosh will take two quarters of COLLEGE. Ultimately, Edelstein said he expects students to be able to select from a range of courses, being taught by faculty from across Stanford. He also envisions COLLEGE themes tying in to students’ residential lives.
“Part of the vision is that we’ll do events with ResX,” Edelstein said. “Once the curricular framework is in place we think other partners will come along.”
Already, when students are sent three books to read over the summer, one book pertains to liberal education – the theme of fall quarter COLLEGE courses. Edelstein envisions book clubs or other events that frosh can engage in together. In winter and spring quarters, which focus respectively on civic and global engagement, students might run global film or music series.
In keeping with the themes of community and connectedness, the Town Center project reimagines the White Plaza region of Stanford’s campus as a place that facilitates intellectual vitality, social engagement and community-building. Planned features include a variety of dining options; areas to rest, meet or work; assembly and public spaces; and a marketplace.
“The Town Center builds on the relationships that are at the heart of ResX and expands them to embrace the entire university,” said Matthew Tiews, associate vice president for Campus Engagement. “Town Center and ResX are complementary in that they are both about the success and health of the entire community.”
Planning for the Town Center has been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the team has developed pilots to test program ideas brought forward by the community. One such pilot, inspired by conversations with students, Land Buildings and Real Estate and other campus groups, is a pop-up pavilion intended to catalyze informal gatherings (once such gatherings are allowed). They might also hold events that bring COLLEGE themes to the entire campus community.