In an email on Monday, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster notified the campus of the formation of a working group focused on developing a policy for off-campus housing and improving upperclassmen housing options. The email included a demographic breakdown of students living off campus.

The data presented by Foster reveal inequity between students who live off campus and the student body as a whole. The numbers indicate that these students are more likely to be male, wealthy, white or a member of a varsity team. Of the students living off campus, only 28 percent receive financial aid, which is considerably lower than the 44.7 percent of the total student body that receives aid.

The College is right to be transparent about these statistics (and we encourage the same degree of transparency with respect to other spaces on campus, such as the College Houses and the athletic department). The data presented in Foster’s email confirm many of our suspicions about the skewed demographics of off-campus housing, and they highlight a need for a proactive off-campus housing policy that remedies the demographic imbalance among students living off campus. 

As this group moves forward there are important dynamics it should be aware of.

An inclusive off-campus housing policy would ensure that students who receive financial aid have an equal opportunity to live off campus as those who do not. In most cases, the College factors the cost of living off-campus for students receiving financial aid into the total billed expenses meaning students who receive financial aid and live off campus don’t pay the college room fee. However, many students receiving financial aid are unaware of this policy and assume that living off campus is not a feasible option for them. Just as the College holds information sessions for students who want to study abroad, the College should hold information sessions for students who express interest in living off campus, where information about financial aid is transparent. 

The off-campus lottery, as it was implemented this January, is biased towards accepting large groups. According to an email from Director of Housing Operations Lisa Rendall, a student who is accepted to live off campus will be able to “pull” the rest of their group into their house. This means that the larger a group, the more entries it effectively has in the pool. These large groups have the ability to create exclusive social spaces that dominate campus culture.

Finally a cap on off-campus housing has the potential to inadvertently cause off-campus rent to rise, perpetuating the bias of off-campus living toward wealthier students. If there is a constant demand for students to live off campus, coupled with the limited 200 available spots, it is possible that landlords will raise rent prices to match or exceed Bowdoin’s housing fee. 

Moving forward, the College has to recognize that students will continue to live off campus. If Bowdoin intends to regulate the off-campus housing policies, it is the College’s responsibility to develop a policy that makes off-campus housing as accessible as possible to prevent further social divide.