Home Improvement

‘Neighborhoods’ will enhance undergraduate residential experience.

September 2019

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Home Improvement

Photo: Toni Bird

On-campus residential communities have been a cherished part of the Stanford undergraduate experience for generations of students. We now have a vision to build on the strengths of our residential system and make students’ experiences even better for decades to come.

Today, students love the fact that they have choices, from dorms to theme houses, Row houses and more. Countless lifelong friendships begin in these special places. Resident staff and resident fellows make an enormous positive impact. Our current residences provide dozens of treasured traditions, like organic gardens in co-ops, late-night discussions in lounges, trips to the beaches and mountains, and, just last spring, a block party with food trucks along Mayfield Avenue. 

But we can do more to realize the full potential of Stanford’s residential experience.

We need to do more to promote students’ health and well-being, starting at home in their residences. We need to strengthen students’ sense of community and belonging, which helps foster their personal and intellectual growth. And we need to make the quality of the physical structures consistent, so that students can focus on experiences rather than on amenities when they choose a home.

Our provost, Persis Drell, commissioned the ResX task force in 2018 to develop a cohesive vision for our undergraduate residential system that would best support our students. 

This task force—composed of faculty, students, alumni and administrators—was one of the first initiatives to get underway in our university-wide long-range planning process. The members examined the best ways to connect academic and residential experiences and to foster students’ health and well-being. They explored the ideal configuration for frosh housing, staff structures and the best ways for students to choose where they live.

Their work was comprehensive, collaborative and inclusive. They met with more than 600 students, alumni, faculty and staff. They held virtual and on-campus town hall meetings and visited peer institutions, including Dartmouth, Harvard, Rice and Yale. They tested their initial recommendations with key stakeholders to hone their thinking, and their report was presented to the Board of Trustees in April.

The core concept is the creation of 10 to 14 well-defined residential neighborhoods where students can deepen friendships and relationships, enrich their education, and experience the challenges and opportunities of life in a diverse community. 

We will keep and improve existing residences and possibly build new structures. Each neighborhood will house about 700 students, frosh through seniors. Structures will be clustered around an open space, indoor community commons and a shared dining hall. Neighborhoods will feature a variety of housing styles and amenities—including rehearsal and performance spaces, meeting rooms and maker spaces.  

Importantly, we will retain and strengthen housed fraternities and sororities, all-frosh dorms, ethnic theme dorms and co-ops. Each existing Row house will become part of a neighborhood. Students will have incentives to stay in one neighborhood all four years through a draw process designed to help keep friends together. Neighborhood-centered activities, such as debates and intramural sports, will help create local communities.

Implementation begins this fall and will occur over 10 to 12 years. Teams will study and make recommendations on specific aspects, such as community governance, housing assignments and student staff roles. 

As we develop this vision for a more vibrant and even better connected and supported residential community, we’re critically focused on retaining the social connections and intellectual experiences that have been hallmarks of residential life for years. 

We believe this new vision will help us offer an undergraduate experience designed for the students of tomorrow, empower them to thrive at Stanford, and prepare them for the opportunities and adventures awaiting them in the years ahead.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.

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