Freshman takeover

More than half of total students living on campus are in their first year

By Kayla Tucker | 8/20/17 10:44pm

GVL / Archive Amy Brinkerhoff

A total of 6,030 students are expected to be living on campus at Grand Valley State University this fall, with approximately 3,550 first-year students making up more than half of that number.

Dena Willis, housing and residence life occupancy manager, said there are many benefits to living on campus, especially as a freshman.

“The number one reason for students to live on campus is to get involved, and it’s a great way to get to know other people,” Willis said. “I also think there’s convenience to living on campus: You’re close to classes, you’re close to food, you’re close to athletic events … All those things play a role in what we call the ‘student experience.’”

Another major factor, Willis said, is safety. Students living on campus are surrounded by “professional live-in staff,” resident assistants and the GVSU Police Department.

“It’s a really nice step, especially for first-year students, to not totally move off campus, but you have kind of this buffer in which students can live here with an extra net of safety,” Willis said.

GVSU’s housing department does work with the off-campus apartments, which surround the university in Allendale. Willis said they try to meet once a semester, but she keeps up a regular communication with them as well.

“We are here for students, and we know that our off-campus people house (students), and we want to make sure that our students have a successful experience there,” Willis said. “One of the ways that we do that is to collaborate with them and learn about their processes and how we can make things better for our students, while also knowing that we’re in competition with each other, and that’s okay because we want to find the right fit for every student.”

Second-year students have the option to live in a campus apartment, which Willis said is almost “unheard” of at other universities in the state.

Other amenities for students living on campus are free laundry, cable and Wi-Fi. Willis said the benefits reach far beyond that.

“When we talk about the student experience, I think the biggest thing is we’re connected to the university, so we are a great resource,” Willis said.

First-year students tend to face a certain amount of issues as they transition into adulthood and living in a new environment. These issues could be homesickness, not getting along with a roommate, or breaking the rules and facing the consequences.

Many students begin to feel homesick as they start a new life living on their own with other people in a new place. Some students live hours away from their families and communities, and it can be an emotional time. Willis advised students not to forget the GVSU staff around them.  

“Reach out for help, especially with your RA," Willis said. "Your RA is there, and if you don’t feel like you connect with your RA, talk with your RA because maybe they can find someone that you can connect with. Know that the RA knows that, and the RA can get you connected to the right person.”

In addition, Willis said students should try something new because often homesickness can be associated with a fear of change or trying new things.

“You have to take risks, and sometimes that’s difficult for students,” Willis said. “Know that you’re not alone and there are plenty of other students that feel the same way and that we are here as the residence life staff to help and assist that student, whatever we can do.”

Living with people you just met can be scary, but also it could mean a clash of personalities.

“We’re not naïve to think that roommate conflicts don’t happen, because they do, and we just really ask students that they respect others and respect others’ opinions, views and all those different types of things so that they can get along and have a good experience here,” Willis said. “We’re not asking people to become best friends, but we are asking people to really respect each other and learn more about the world and about who they are as well.”

GVSU student Kayleigh Rehkopf lived in the Glenn A. Niemeyer Learning and Living Center her freshman year. As a first-year college student and an only child, she said she had a hard time adjusting to living with other people her age.

“For me, that was definitely an adjustment because I was an only child, so the only people I was used to living with were my parents, not people who were my age and faced the same daily struggles I did,” Rehkopf said. “On one hand, that was nice because we could all understand one another’s troubles, but on the other hand, it’s still the fact of having two to four 18-year-olds living together.”

Rehkopf, who is now a senior majoring in biology for pre-medical studies, said she adjusted to the living situation by making time for herself away from her roommates. 

"I adjusted by making sure I took time for myself and spent enough time doing the things I needed to do and liked to do," Rehkopf said. "Living with them was great, but sometimes I just needed some 'me time.'"

Additionally, Willis said the college is no stranger to students breaking rules, like underage drinking in the halls.  She encouraged students to make responsible decisions. 

“We want students to make good choices and to make responsible choices and to understand that sometimes there are consequences for the choices that you make,” Willis said.

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