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McGill residences: More than just a roof overhead

Editorial/Opinion by

McGill guarantees residence for all first-year students under the age of 22. Yet, the conditions of this guarantee are murky. McGill’s residence system intentionally accepts more applications than it has capacity for, counting on cancellations to accommodate all of the incoming first-year students. This year, without enough cancellations, McGill was faced with a housing demand larger than supply. To solve the problem, McGill has partnered with EVO to fulfill its promise of accommodation for all first years who wish to live in university housing. Overflow students were finally notified of their new housing arrangement in mid-August, after waiting on a “temporary housing status” for months.

Faced with limited resources, it is important that McGill does whatever it can to fulfill its promise of a residence community for all first years. Living in residence is a foundational experience—particularly for out-of-province and international students—and its significance goes far beyond the necessity of having a place to sleep. For students leaving home for the first time, knowing that they’ll have access to a residence hall with built-in support systems is a crucial source of comfort. First-year students in residence have access to a Floor Fellow to help them navigate the ups and downs of university life. For many, residence is an important way to get integrated into social life at McGill. From Saturday brunches in the cafeteria to hanging out in the common room, from study nights and floor teas to planned inter-residence events, living in residence allows students to build lifelong friendships.

For all students in residence, this community is the first environment at McGill that they will call home. As such, McGill must address student housing situations not only with care for the base-level expectations of guaranteed first-year housing, but also an understanding of the importance of residence as an introduction to university life for so many students.

McGill offers a diverse range of housing in order to accommodate the personal living preferences of all students. From dorm-style, to hotel-style, to apartment-style residences, McGill ensures that students are able to select the living environment that will make them feel the most comfortable. McGill’s unique selection of residence options allows for a diversity of residence communities. However, the discrepancies between housing options are also matched by a discrepancy in price, not to mention that McGill has the most expensive residences in Canada—costs range from around $9,000 per eight months to live in the Upper Residences to over $11,500 for a room in La Citadelle.

While the cost scale allows students to select which residences best fit their lifestyles and budgets, unfortunately there is no promise that students will receive their first choice. Some may be unable to afford the steep costs of the hotel-style residences, and as such, opt for Upper Rez or University Hall for their residence selection. Students who have been moved into EVO this year are paying $1,100 per month for a double room.

By giving students support and resources, a place to gather and eat, and the opportunity to build foundational friendships, McGill residences provide first-year students with the ideal jumping point to begin life at university. McGill must keep in mind that the comfort of residence goes beyond having a place to sleep.

Given the volume of applications McGill receives, students may be placed in residences outside their comfort or price range. While it is understandable that the university is not able to give every student their first choice, McGill must consider financial accessibility when placing students in the more costly halls. Given the lasting significance of first-year residence over the course of a student’s entire university career, McGill should seek to make this experience accessible to as many students as possible. This includes finding a more long-term solution for meeting student demand for residence rooms in recent years.

In moving this year’s surplus of students into EVO, McGill did what it could given limited resources. Still, it is crucial that the university communicate to future tenants where they will be living in a way that gives them more than a few weeks’ advance notice. This certainty is essential for students undergoing such an exciting—but potentially unsettling—transition. The McGill administration must treat students with this sensitivity in mind. While it is understandably difficult to predict the demand for residence on a year-by-year basis, McGill must have legitimate back-up plans well in advance, so as not to leave any incoming first years in the dark until just a few weeks before the start of classes.

By giving students support and resources, a place to gather and eat, and the opportunity to build foundational friendships, McGill residences provide first-year students with the ideal jumping point to begin life at university. McGill must keep in mind that the comfort of residence goes beyond having a place to sleep.

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