By Sean Robinson, Contributing Writer
Before moving into UNO’s Maverick Village, sophomore Ashley Kildow worried student life in the residence halls would resemble a scene from a Ke$ha music video, with partying taking priority over academics.
“I was nervous moving in as a freshman that I’d be living in this place where teenagers are celebrating their first taste of freedom by drinking away every night,” Kildow, an exercise science major, said. “Honestly, I was scared that my roommates would be brushing their teeth with a bottle of Jack Daniels while I’m just trying to study.”
In time, Maverick Village, one of five residential facilities at the university, became Kildow’s “sanctuary,” once she quickly realized dormitory living isn’t one big party after all.
Kildow is one of nearly 2,100 students who call campus home. Residence halls are increasingly gaining more popularity from the student body and plans to expand the facilities loom in the near future to keep up with demand.
The university is expecting 20,000 students to be enrolled by 2020, according to Chancellor John Christensen’s State of the University speech given earlier this year. On-campus housing may see additions and renovations in the future as more students flood into UNO in the coming years, Trent Fredericksen, assistant director of residence life, said.
“The typical student we see living in the dorms would be a freshman or sophomore that lives here for one or two years, but in the future this may change,” Fredericksen said.
“Nothing is final and concrete, but some potential blueprints for the 2020 campus show changes to housing.”
These changes to housing within the next couple of years potentially include doubling beds to about 4,000 in order to make UNO less of a commuter campus, Joey VanderHelm, housing administrative coordinator, said.
While nothing absolute has been planned so far for the future, other additions to residence halls may include family housing, graduate housing or building a more traditional dormitory style hall, where 20 people may live on a floor with one community bathroom.
UNO’s current five residential facilities – Maverick and University located on UNO’s Dodge Street campus and Scott Hall, Court and Village on Pacific Street campus – are anything but traditional. Seeming more like an apartment and less like a dormitory, UNO’s residence halls feature suite style housing where each suite is fully furnished and includes a living room, kitchen, two bathrooms and an individual bedroom for each of the four roommates.
“Traditionally, dorms are a place where you just sleep and eat,” VanderHelm said. “They are usually no bigger than a broom closet. UNO’s residence halls allow for a more encompassing feeling, hopefully helping students to develop as they move out for the first time.”
Perhaps the most traditional of all UNO’s dormitories would be Scott Hall. While each student still gets their own bedroom, they must share a kitchen and common area with their whole floor. However, most students living there are Information Science and Technology scholars, and each Scott Hall resident has a meal plan to Scott Dining Hall included in their rent.
“The only real downside I see to living at Maverick Village is that [Dodge Street] campus doesn’t have a dining hall, so I actually have to motivate myself to cook,” Kildow said. “It grinds my gears because usually I’m stuck making Ramen Noodles, but I guess I still have a kitchen to call my own.”
The other amenities offered by UNO Housing may explain the recent boom in popularity for the dormitories. On-campus housing grew from being nonexistent in 2000 to now having five thriving residential. Other advantages that come with living at UNO include access to outdoor amenities like basketball and volleyball courts, free events thrown by Residential Advisors and the conveniency of living next door to your classrooms.
“I think the biggest benefit to living on-campus is that it gets a student more involved,” Fredericksen said. “It’s seems like there is some event going on almost every night here, and I know it gets students more connected to campus.”
Despite the many amenities offered by UNO housing and plans to expand, VanderHelm said the past two years have seen an average of 75 empty beds throughout the five residential facilities. She credited empty beds to the construction of Scott Court, which opened in fall 2011, adding 480 beds to campus.
VanderHelm and Fredericksen insist this isn’t a sign of waning popularity for on-campus housing, as Scott Court allows for hundreds of more students to live at UNO each year.
“UNO just needs to figure out a way to catch up with the new number of beds and fill them,” Fredericksen said. “I have no doubt that within the next couple of semesters those 75 empty beds won’t be empty anymore.”
While the monthly rates vary per residential facility, rents average around $500 per month. Fredericksen said often times the benefits that come with living on campus outweigh the price. Roomate conflict are often the biggest issue UNO Housing has to address.
“Sometimes I think students are overwhelmed with coming to live in an apartment style dorm, like it might be too much freedom too soon for some of them,” Fredericksen said. “We’ve seen conflict between roommates occur as a consequence of this.”
Although UNO is a dry campus, students sometimes find it easier to hide illegal substances and alcohol in apartment suites than in more traditional dormitory halls. However, Fredericksen said students who are caught are disciplined, often being forced to move out of their dorm. Campus Security is quick to respond if they are suspicious of any illegal activity within the residential facilities.
In regards to concerns for student’s safety, which Fredericksen said is parent’s biggest qualm about moving their student onto campus, in 2011 nine burglaries, three robberies, and one forcible sex offense were reported from on-campus residential housing, according to UNO’s Annual Campus Security and Fire Safety Report found on UNO’s website. The report compares these numbers to the 127 alcohol related incidents and 95 drug related crimes that occurred within the residence halls during the same year.
With only 2,100 students living at the residence halls out of the nearly 15,000 students enrolled at UNO, only about 14 percent of the student population lives in the dormitories despite on-campus housing’s recent uptick in popularity within the last decade.
“Living with my parents always was just the cheapest and most convenient choice for me,” junior Gabi Jelinek said. Jelinek lived with her parents during her first two years at UNO and now lives in an apartment with two friends. “I’ve considered living on campus before, but then I got too old. UNO’s housing seemed great when I was a freshman, but it begins to lose its allure.”
Jelinek said other reasons she thought UNO housing never attracted her was its high price for monthly rent, fear of living with roommates she wouldn’t get along with and the fact that most UNO students live elsewhere.
Despite the 75 empty beds, and a recent increase in student interest in living in the dorms, over 80 percent of students live elsewhere, hinting that UNO remains a commuter campus overall.
Beyond plans to build new dorms within the near future, UNO housing has tried to combat the campus’ reputation as a commuter university by partnering with the university’s recruitment office. From being included in marketing that attracts students to UNO to hosting several open housing days to let incoming students tour the residential facilities, UNO’s housing hopes informing students about the dorms early on and letting them interact within the suites will recruit them both to UNO and to living on campus VanderHelm said.
“I personally encourage students to come live on campus because only here is everything at a student’s fingertips,” VanderHelm said. “Our residents can take better advantage of university resources, they have a special housing staff just for them and they have access to activities and prizes that are exclusive to those living on campus.”
After living at Maverick Village for over a year and a half, Kildow finally put the finishing touch on her room to make it home. Hanging a framed photo of herself and her three roommates on a late November morning, Kildow stepped back to admire the picture of them arm in arm during a summer day. Sighing with a smile on her face, Kildow said “finally all moved-in.”
“I really had no clue that living in the dorms would equate to me meeting my new best friends,” Kildow said. “Honestly, it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made.”