Photo by Ethan Castro (He/him)
During the lunch hour on Thursday, March 14, the Illinois Tech Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a Town Hall forum with the Office of Residence Life (ORL), previously known as the Office of Residence and Greek Life (RGL) inside McCormick Student Village (MSV)’s Center Lounge. Moderated by SGA Executive Assistant Katja Berthold, this forum saw Associate Vice Provost of ORL Jeanette Konieczka answer a series of questions about the entire realm of on-campus living.
Konieczka herself is a new addition to the Illinois Tech community, having only joined in October of 2018. Still, she has come into her position with both passion and ambition to help “create a home away from home for residents.” Alongside ORL’s commonly known past history of very high turnaround in its employees, Konieczka certainly has a lot on her plate, having to also guide her office and its stakeholder students through dramatic changes such as the change in dining service provider from Sodexo to Chartwells as well as the recently-announced plan to bring Bailey Hall back online. Her answers and expertise at this forum demonstrated her willingness and student-centered approach to creating the ideal on-campus living situation.
The first question brought forward by Berthold asked about what plans are in place to improve the campus’s older residence halls. Konieczka first talked about the previously-mentioned renovation of Bailey Hall, set to begin the summer of 2019 and open for residence in August of 2020. With enthusiasm, she described how this process creates many opportunities to “create a residence hall in the way we want,” as she discussed her desired focuses on disability accessibility and accommodations and more inclusive housing opportunities (such as gender neutral housing arrangements and floors).
While still on the topic of plans and ideas for housing improvements, Konieczka also talked about the plan to replace the boiler in Gunsaulus Hall this coming summer to address issues with heat in the building and an acknowledgement that Carman Hall could also do with some maintenance attention. Finally, she also stated that while no decisions have been set for improving MSV, discussions and questioning on it is an ongoing process.
The next question Berthold presented was an inquiry into the maintenance process for the residence halls. Konieczka described how the new HawkWorks system in place with Illinois Tech Facilities (available at https://facilities.iit.edu/) allows students to both submit maintenance requests and have ongoing communications with Illinois Tech Facilities. Of course, she also affirmed that ORL’s role can be seen as something of a “communication piece,” helping students elevate their outstanding maintenance requests if needed.
When asked about how the increase in Illinois Tech student tuition relates to housing improvements, Konieczka gave the simple answer that these sorts of budgeting decisions are made “at a higher administrative level.” Unfortunately, she was simply unable to give a specific percentage on how much of the tuition increase goes into housing, but also gave the reasonable position that with Bailey’s reopening a major part of the university’s decisions, “a decent amount” of revenue will be going into that project.
Berthold then asked for a basic rundown of the security precautions in place at each residence hall. The response from Konieczka outlined the several layers of security within each residence hall, including the ID card door locks, 24/7 community desk assistants (CDAs), resident advisors (RAs) on-call, professional staff on-call, the Student Affairs Leadership Team (SALT), Public Safety, and security cameras all over campus. Konieczka concluded this outline with the remark that she believes campus security, especially in the residence halls, is “in a really good spot” and gave special recognition to the student RAs that she sees as an “amazing team that really bands together to support our students.”
The next series of questions presented by Berthold asked about new housing policies (such as the requirement that new students must live on campus for at least two years) and their fairness. In her answers, Konieczka described how incremental increases in tuition and housing costs are the unfortunate reality but that such decisions are always made with considerations paid to returning students who have already budgeted for set rates, while also balancing these decisions with the need to keep up with staffing, facilities, and upkeep. She even took ownership over the most recent confusion that arose over the 2019-2020 meal plan changes. In regards to the fairness of these plans and requirements, especially for new students, Konieczka stuck to her belief that living on campus provides the most opportunity for students to make the most of their time at the university.
Other logistical questions brought up near the end of the forum concerned specific items such as the selection process for RAs (which is part of the overarching Student Life Leader (SLL) process run from every academic year), the late beginning to the summer campus living process (information sessions are due to begin the week of Monday, March 25), storage options over the summer (available through a partnership with Collegeboxes), and the ownership of service animals in the residence halls (which require registration through the Center for Disability Resources as well as specific documentation and other requirements).
The final line of questioning looked to the future of on-campus living, especially with the upcoming reopening of Bailey Hall. While many of the decisions have not been made, Konieczka stated that it’s likely the reopened hall will be similar in price and structure to MSV’s traditional residence hall arrangements, but it also has many more single-occupant rooms (around four or five per floor). Whether or not MSV will eventually be demolished and replaced is still not decided, despite rumors circulating around the student body. However, Konieczka concluded the presentation with an emphasis on doing what students want, recounting the many conversations she has had with students about the sorts of spaces they would like to see. While she cannot necessarily guarantee anything, hearing these sorts of ideas from the students that will directly benefit from such amenities is her favorite part of her position.
SGA will continue to hold Town Hall forums such as this with various campus offices and departments to give students a direct opportunity to ask their most pressing questions. The next forum will be with the Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC) and is scheduled for Tuesday, April 2 in Rettaliata 104. Before then, questions for the event can be sent in via email to SGA at [email protected]