RLO: Remember the Honor Code and Revise Your Off-Campus Housing Policies

Nilay Ghatlia ’21 and Sebastian Sola-Sole ’21

 Nilay Ghatlia ’21 and Sebastian Sola-Sole ’21. Photo by John Crawford ‘20. 

We’ve been screaming from this soapbox for a month. On top of about 2,000 emails and just as many phone calls, the two of us have met with RLO and related persons five times to discuss policy and attitude toward off-campus students and what that “experience” means to us. We’re here to publish our concerns about their outlook and a recent policy change.  

For context, we live in “Depot,” the apartment complex behind the Brickhouse parking lot along with other Davidson students living off-campus. 

Our semester’s rent is about $1,600. We have a lot of space, in-house utilities, two bathrooms, and a fireplace. Senior apartments at Martin Court cost $4,710 a semester. 

The cost differential is wild. To be clear, if RLO really wanted to extend themselves on the students’ behalf, they could be more forward about off-campus living options as potential low-cost alternatives to their more expensive on-campus counterparts. 

Living on Martin Court costs three and a half times what it costs to live in a nicer residence five minutes away; there’s obviously a conversation to be had here. But, that’s not our primary concern.

 In case you haven’t heard us complaining about it yet, with all the renovation projects this summer, RLO upgraded their CatCard scanners to afford themselves greater control over individual swipe access to campus spaces. One of their first actions with that capability was to deny off-campus students access to the school’s residence buildings.

According to a senior administrator, their justification lies in the fact that some students worry about non-residents occupying their common spaces, other schools’ commonly set stricter regulations, and they believe that differences in access to residential spaces should exist when paying a semester’s rent and living on-campus versus an equivalent fine and living off-campus. We take issue with all three parts. 

First, the policy change exists to address student concerns about unknown, unfamiliar people in their lounges. RLO has pinned that issue on the off-campus students. 

To us, that’s a hasty leap in logic. Sure, we live further away than most, so it might follow that if an off-campus resident needed to rest during the day but didn’t want to walk the additional five minutes to do so in their own bed, they might sojourn to a first-year dorm lounge. 

We’ve never heard of that happening over two years of living on campus, and we challenge any first-years and sophomores reading this article to identify one time in which they found an unaccompanied upperclassman loitering on their hall. In this community of elevated trust and respect, we know that we have more reverence for each other’s space than that. 

RLO’s second justification for the new policy employs the same rationale preteens use with their parents in campaigning for their first phone: everyone else has one; why can’t we have one too? 

While other colleges have far stricter access limitations than Davidson, to that reasoning, we offer the same response our parents gave us: the circumstances are different. 

We don’t have to preach the virtue of the Honor Code because we all know exactly what it means and does. This policy hurts our community.  

Then there is this whole issue of the “fine.” This third justification is reasonable until you get into the logistics. 

RLO holds that, because we do not pay campus rents, we are not entitled to the resources inside of campus residential buildings. Where that gets mucky is, in the case that RLO does not grant permission for off-campus housing, the administration requires students pay the base room rate, $3,767, as a fine for breaking their four-year residence rule. 

If the fine equals the room rate was initially advertised as such, and, according to a senior administrator, flows into the same bucket as all on-campus rents, why can’t we print in Little, buy snacks in Base Belk, or watch football in the New Dorm lobby like everyone else? 

We are paying the equivalent of campus rent to live off-campus without tangible return, and that seems fraudulent.

Our final critique lies with the “special” requests avenue toward getting permission for off-campus housing. From our meetings with RLO, and more recently explained in Katherine Coetzer’s ’23 news article “Students React to Housing Policy,” we learned that the only circumstance under which the school will waive the fine is if the student has specified a set of special needs—mental health chief among them. 

Candidly, we both left campus for some mental respite. We’re both paying the fine. 

Without getting into what the school does and does not qualify as mental illness (because that’s way too messy for 750 words), we think it’s fair to ask for more transparency and clarity with respect to the options that exist, including receiving permission, paying a fine, and waiving permission for special needs. 

Ultimately, Davidson is a community of greater trust and respect than most other colleges because most of us value and subscribe to our Honor Code in many aspects of daily life. 

We applied here with that understanding and conduct ourselves according to those values. 

Maybe that’s just dumb optimism, but this policy seems to undermine that community at every turn, whether it’s the lacking transparency, distrust of students, or the choice to follow other colleges’ lead when our campus culture doesn’t demand it. 

We suggest RLO rewrite the narrative and reconsider what their imposed barriers and policies mean outside of a conference room. 

Nilay Ghatlia ’21 is a music major from Shanghai, China. Contact him at nighatlia@davidson.edu. Sebi Sola-Sole ’21, Design Editor for the Davidsonian, is an art history major from Bethesda, Maryland. Contact him at sesolasole@davidson.edu. 

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