ResX Task Force releases final recommendations

A report released Tuesday provides the task force’s proposals for the future of the undergraduate residential experience, which have been accepted by the president and provost.

After months of research and outreach, the ResX Task Force on Tuesday released its final recommendations for the future of the undergraduate residential experience at Stanford, which have been accepted by the president and provost.

The report, titled ResX Task Force Final Report: Our Vision for Stanford’s Undergraduate Residences, offers many proposals relating to various aspects of the residential experience, while retaining important features of the current housing system. All recommendations are rooted in the group’s main proposal of developing residential “neighborhoods” that foster the health and well-being of students, ensure community and belonging on campus, and advance intellectual and personal growth.

The report was presented at a meeting of the Board of Trustees on April 9. It is the culmination of extensive research by the task force, which is co-chaired by Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam. Their group was charged with examining four main areas: housing configurations for first-year students, the housing assignment process, staffing structures, and development of a “neighborhood” concept for residences. While this concept will be a long-term endeavor that will require physical restructuring of some parts of campus, Brubaker-Cole said it was an ideal option.

“We felt that the model of neighborhoods struck the right balance between creating greater continuity and cohesion in the residential experience while also continuing to offer the types of choices in undergraduate residences that exist in the system today,” she said.

Implementing the task force’s recommendations will take several years, particularly as the campus works to transition over time to the “neighborhood” residential concept outlined in the report.

A new residential system

A circle diagram showing housing layout.

The ResX Task Force proposes housing undergraduate students in neighborhoods that offer diverse housing options. (Image credit: Stanford University)

The ResX Task Force proposes that campus housing be divided into 10 to 14 neighborhoods that are largely based on existing communities. Each neighborhood would have about 700 undergraduate students who would largely remain in one neighborhood throughout their time at Stanford, although there would be options to spend time in theme houses in other neighborhoods. In addition to theme houses, each neighborhood will include co-ops, upper-class dorms and Row-style houses, which will offer an independent housing option for upper-class students. Stanford’s Greek system will be retained; however, a separate working group will be studying the best way of incorporating fraternities and sororities into the new housing system.

Each neighborhood, which would house some faculty and staff, would be designed around a common outdoor space and a community commons. Neighborhoods will also offer amenities to provide students with the means to gather in their communities, while welcoming friends and visitors from other neighborhoods and across campus.

First-year students would receive their neighborhood assignments before arriving on campus. Once here, most would be placed in all-frosh dorms within neighborhoods, with about 160 to 200 frosh in each neighborhood. Some might choose from a small number of learning communities, such as ethnic theme dorms and Freshman-Sophomore College.

The report recommends creating a new housing assignment system for students of all class years. Many students have reported that the current process – the draw – disrupts their communities because it virtually ensures that they will change houses each year, which works against the goal of building lasting community and a sense of belonging. To resolve this issue, the task force proposes retiring the draw and tiers systems and replacing them with a simple,  fair system that enhances students’ experience with housing assignments and that encourages, but does not require, students to stay within their neighborhoods.

The task force recommends that each neighborhood be governed by a Community Council led by Resident Fellows. Council members would include other staff, such as Program Associates, Resident Assistants and Dining Managers. The group also recommends that Resident Fellows and Resident Assistants receive enhanced training and recognition, as well as appropriate living arrangements and compensation.

Ultimately, integrating students across class years with faculty and staff into neighborhoods that provide diverse housing options would create dynamic living environments that encourage strong social networks and intellectual development to equip students for life on campus and allow them to contribute to their communities after they graduate. “So much learning and growth happens from interactions with faculty, peers and other mentors in the dorms,” Elam said. “ResX was constantly attuned to the importance of that learning.”

An inclusive process

A year ago, Provost Persis Drell commissioned the task force to study how Stanford can better tie together the academic experience with the residential experience. Since then, the task force met with every group or individual who requested a meeting, which included more than 500 students, alumni, faculty and staff. The task force reviewed more than 600 pieces of unique feedback through the ResX website and 493 long-range planning proposals.

Students sitting at tables outside residence.

Stanford students gather outside Columbae, a vegetarian co-op. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

“The Task Force’s information-gathering process was absolutely inclusive,” said Neel Guha, ’18, a member of the ResX task force. He said the process relied heavily on feedback from the campus community, particularly students. “I was continually blown away by the lengths that members of the task force went to in order to ensure they were getting a representative student opinion on a particular issue. I think we were cognizant of how the process of ResX was as important as the decisions of ResX,” he said.

The group also visited peer institutions, such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Rice, to learn about their housing systems, and reviewed extensive data from other departments and offices at Stanford. This research, Elam said, made it clear that now is the time to begin reshaping Stanford’s undergraduate residential landscape.

“Through site visits and other research, we found that Stanford’s residential system is adequate,” Elam said. “And while the university has done a great job in maintaining facilities, we are falling behind our peers in terms of the condition of our structures and, more importantly, in terms of enhancing ties within each class, among the classes here at roughly the same time, and with the institution overall.”

The next step in developing the task force’s recommendations will be forming implementation teams to work through the many details that will help bring this vision to life. The entire project is estimated to take at least a decade to complete. Building neighborhoods will involve some restructuring of current residential communities, as well as construction of new buildings, all of which will be dependent upon the parameters of the university’s General Use Permit with Santa Clara County.

Brubaker-Cole said the recommendations outlined in the report provide a solid foundation for developing the residential experience of future generations of Stanford students.

“I think the future is so bright for the residences,” Brubaker-Cole said. “We are taking the best of the traditions and specific characteristics of what it means to be at Stanford in residences and combining those with elements that are needed for today’s students and tomorrow’s students.”

The president and provost have accepted the ResX vision and said that they look forward to the ongoing contributions of the Stanford community in working through the many important questions that will arise during the implementation process.