One of the things drawing individuals to St. Olaf is undoubtedly the visual appeal of the school itself. The buildings, walkways and lawns evoke within an onlooker a sense of majesty. The majority of the buildings that make up St. Olaf’s aesthetically pleasing campus are the dorms, and each have their own unique structure. Within these halls students are promised to find camaraderie, comfort, and, above all, a home away from home. For many, this may be the reality, but for others, this expectation falls short.
The four-year residency requirement exists to foster community and create a concrete foundation of learning among fellow scholars. For this reason, off-campus living at the College is not an option. Allowing students to reside permanently away from the heart of campus is too big a risk to take. What self-respecting, university leaders would dare want their students residing independently from the ideal community they have created, instead fostering their own sense of self within the larger picture of their education? Mandatory on-campus residency has its perks and can encourage a stronger community, but for students who might prefer to detach from their identity as a student, the constricting nature of the residence halls pose an issue. Although they certainly have their charms, and although their location within the larger community of the College offers convenience, they don’t offer the same sense of independence that off-campus living does.
Honor houses, regular houses and apartments alike are important not because of the “real-life” external experience but because of the sense of self they offer a person – a sense of what it means to be yourself when removed from campus. We have all our lives to experience “real-life,” so I don’t think there should be any rush to reach for that now. That’s not why I chose to live off campus, and I’m sure that’s not why other off-campus residents chose to either. Rather, residing in a house or apartment while attending school allows one to shed the sometimes binding label of “student,” and the stress and obligations that society associates with it. As a part-time St. Olaf student who lives off campus, I can attest to the freeing nature of this lifestyle. I am able to be on campus as much as I want, I can take part in any activities that I feel like and I can maintain the same perks of a residence-hall student. But, my participation is no longer determined by the fact that I’m trapped in a space that demands my involvement and offers no real escape from it.
This is what it ultimately comes down to: self-regulated independence. For those of us young people who desire such unconventional freedom, off-campus living is an excellent way to achieve that. If it were up to me, St. Olaf would do away with the four-year residency requirement entirely and in that way make it easier for people like me to achieve separation from academia. However, since the requirement is alive and well – and probably not going anywhere – the honor houses are a great alternative.
Even if a custodian helps clean the place, and even if residents still have to abide by school policies, honor houses offer a sense of self-driven independence that can’t be found in a residence hall – one that offers an individual insight into who they can be when freed from the identity of a student.
Kathryn Childs ’21 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Rockford, Ill. Her major is undeclared.