In an email that sent waves throughout the student body, Muhlenberg announced a series of upcoming changes to the College’s residential policy on Feb. 6. These changes include the gender integration of Brown Hall, the closing of Martin Luther (ML) Hall to undergraduates and requiring all students except for commuters to live on campus. Students, alumni and parents expressed outrage, raising concerns and questions about each of these changes. Students shared Change.org petitions and GoFundMe crowdsourcing pages, and it would be difficult to walk past a table in the dining hall without hearing whispers about the policy.
Many students believe these changes are the result of the College’s need for additional funds, but Dean of Students Allison Williams cites the enhancement of the residential experience as the reasoning for these changes. She says, “While housing is one variable in the College’s budget, the primary driver of this decision is the College’s focus on providing the full residential college experience to every student, and supporting the four-year community, where junior and senior students provide leadership and mentorship to sophomore and first-year students, that makes the Muhlenberg experience so impactful.”
However, some students disagree that living on campus is the best option for all four years of college. Grace Nyberg ‘23 says “Personally, it’s more affordable for me to live off-campus. I understand Muhlenberg might need to save money, but then why did we just build an entirely new building and host all these events for it? Why do we rent bouncy houses for the lawn that no one even uses? We already pay an exorbitant amount of money to attend this school, and by making students pay more for room and board when off-campus living for cheaper is an option, it doesn’t feel like it has the students’ best interest in mind, it just feels like a money grab.”
But Williams claims the change is intended as a benefit to students, “In a reshaped residential environment, we can develop new initiatives so that all juniors and seniors have opportunities to develop more independent living skills.”
When Williams was asked “What ‘independent living skills’ might students develop in college housing that they would not be able to develop from living off-campus?” She responded, “Students are able to develop the same independent living skills in both spaces. Currently more than 80% of the senior class lives on-campus and have a multitude of opportunities to develop the independent living skills needed to be successful after graduation.”
Joel Hark ‘22 says that living off-campus was impactful, and he gained skills from the experience. “I think [the change] will greatly affect students, one because you’re losing skills that you’re gonna have to learn eventually one day, but it’s a great time to learn as you’re starting to grow, go into new environments, and taking care of your own apartment and place, and finding apartments, it’s a whole new process. I think it’s a great time to learn… and I think it’s just super unfortunate.”
Julian Goldman-Brown ‘23 adds, “Off-campus housing is integral to the social life of students and provides students with the opportunity to build life skills that will be used post college such as effective communication with a landlord and billing companies.”
Concerns about the future of some Allentown landlords have also been brought up, with Goldman-Brown saying, “This also hurts landlords in the Allentown community since if college students aren’t renting these properties who is[?]”
“I live off-campus and my landlord (who is an alumni of Muhlenberg) depends on Muhlenberg students to sign the lease each year,” says Claire Spenard ‘23. “I’m upset for him that Muhlenberg students are not going to be able to live in this amazing house and I wonder if a lot of landlords in this area are going to be faced with the same problem.”
“it doesn’t feel like it has the students’ best interest in mind, it just feels like a money grab.”Grace Nyberg ‘23
Students will still be able to live in off-campus housing for one more year, which also raises concerns for the current class of juniors, many of whom will be left with the responsibility of clearing out houses which have remained in the hands of Muhlenberg students for many years. Also, who will shoulder the responsibility for damages to the house that might have been done in years past, but which will be discovered by landlords at the end of next year?
Of the various aspects of this new policy, the removal of off-campus housing as an option seems to be creating the highest level of outrage, with a Change.org petition having received nearly 500 signatures as of Feb. 7.
Esther Klinger ‘25 says, “The removal of off-campus housing for those that don’t commute is perhaps the most pressing issue. Not only does it remove the option of weekend parties, which many would argue is integral to their college experience, it also removes the option of cheaper housing for those that cannot afford to live in the dorms all four years. Living on campus costs around 14k [per year], excluding dining plans. Having a roommate or two off-campus would translate to much less than that. Therefore, removing that option is not only stupid but also classist.”
Parents also shared their concerns by commenting on the petition, with Jennifer Hoffman saying, “If the College intends to make this change, wait until a new class coming in is fully aware of the changes to best make the decision for choosing to attend Muhlenberg. My daughter made the decision with the knowledge she would have the option to live in an off campus house her senior year.”
Mark Collazo ‘22 wrote on the petition, “As an alumni [of] this school, I had a great experience in my four years here. I want the future students to have their undergrad years similar or better to what I had. Them not getting off-campus housing is ridiculous and takes away from that experience. Shame on ‘berg.”
Many athletic teams rent houses off-campus, some of which have been passed down within the team for over a decade. A GoFundMe to “Save the Dupe,” an off-campus football house that has been passed down for over a decade, has also been created; presumably to raise enough money to purchase the house. Owen Daddona ‘22 states on the GoFundMe, “The legacy of Muhlenberg Football is in grave danger because of foolish and nonsensible decisions made by the administration of the College. This fund is an attempt to preserve the great culture that every previous mule has worked to forge.”
Football team member Emmett Reilly ‘23 told The Weekly, “This is incredibly detrimental to our ability to perform the way that we have in years past… As a team, you rely on your ability to recruit talent and talented players. And the idea of not having off-campus housing is a huge detriment to kids who have a certain idea for the college experience. And that’s not speculation on my part, I’ve got several teammates who turned down offers to go to other schools, because they didn’t have the option of off-campus housing. So right away, our ability to recruit was immediately going to be impacted, because there’s an inability to show them a wider college experience as an opportunity.”
Williams says “Of note, many of our peer institutions also require all undergraduates, including student-athletes, to live in college housing for all four years with no negative impact on recruiting. This includes schools such as Ursinus, Susquehanna, Moravian University, Franklin and Marshall and many others.” However, Muhlenberg’s football team is largely believed to be stronger than that of these schools. The role of housing in the strength of teams is unknown.
Baseball team member JJ Foti ‘26 echoed Reilly’s sentiments saying “As a freshman, it is extremely upsetting to hear this news, because this is something that you look forward to as a senior. And it’s not only upsetting, but it’s concerning, because I’m worried that a bunch of Muhlenberg athletes are going to leave. That’s something that had never crossed my mind before I heard this. And now it’s an option for me… I love Muhlenberg, I love it. The reason that I came here was because there’s great athletics, great academics and a great social life. And I feel like by getting rid of this [off-campus housing] that takes away a third of what college should be for me and for other athletes.”
Reilly says, “We’ve talked about this as being the end of sports at Muhlenberg, not that there won’t be teams, but just for the simple fact that the way that we operate as a team, and the way that we recruit is going to be completely changed. And obviously my class isn’t directly impacted and the class below me isn’t, but the kids who are below that, sophomores and freshmen, are each trying to find ways that they can have an off-campus place. Because it really is something that we view as very important.”
“We’ve talked about this as being the end of sports at Muhlenberg, not that there won’t be teams, but just for the simple fact that the way that we operate as a team, and the way that we recruit is going to be completely changed.”Emmett Reilly ’23
Another big concern among students is losing the ability to host social gatherings in off-campus housing. Williams says, “College Life formed a student committee in the fall to begin looking at social policy and guidelines for hosting parties. We are expanding this group to look broadly at student social life on campus and to make recommendations for changes that will support healthy and vibrant social life on campus. The majority of our peer institutions require all students to live on campus as well and have many models for ensuring that student groups can still host events and have places to socialize that are monitored in different ways to provide a positive student experience.”
An anonymous residential advisor (RA) asks, “What will this mean for RAs? Depending on what happens, RAs would be tasked with keeping these parties at bay, and having to deal with more alcohol, drug and social gathering issues and related incidents. Not only is that more paperwork and time, but will put added stress and pressure on RAs. RAs are already under a lot of pressure with how much they deal with on a weekly if not daily basis, and this would only contribute further. If the school is going to continue down this route, they better alter the pay or responsibilities of an RA accordingly.”
One exception to the off-campus housing ban is Alpha Tau Omega (ATO). Williams said, “ATO will continue to have members living in their house. They have a long-term legally-binding agreement with the College that allows for this and that is not able to be amended.” ATO is the only organization with an official Greek letter house that is not owned by the College. However, while other Greek organizations will be able to keep their official College-owned letter houses, their off-campus rentals will not be allowed.
Rumors abound about the future of ML. Will it be repurposed for student use? Will Muhlenberg house graduate students there? Will it be rented out for interns from the Lehigh Valley Health Network? These questions remain unanswered with Williams saying, “The College is considering options now and will share the next steps with the community when those are finalized.”
This leaves first-year students wondering where the bulk of them will live when it comes time to select housing for their sophomore year, and whether they will still have the ability to develop the same kind of communal living bonds.
Williams says, “While the exact percentages will depend upon the preferences of seniors and juniors, as always, we expect to house the majority of sophomores in Brown and Benfer, with smaller numbers of sophomores living in East and Taylor.”
An anonymous source from Housing and Residence Life shared that they expect “rising sophomores will make up about half of Benfer, half of Brown and smaller percentages in East, Taylor and the MILE area,” thus confirming that there will be no space that is primarily sophomores.
Klinger says, “While the administration is claiming that the removal of ML is to facilitate a good community, it would accomplish exactly the opposite. As a sophomore living in ML, I can say with full confidence that the community I have formed there far exceeds that of the freshman housing quad.”
The future of Brown Hall as an integrated space is allegedly in line with what other institutions are doing. “Most colleges and universities have moved away from the practice of single-gender residence halls. This will allow all students more flexibility in selecting housing options that meet their needs. In addition, there will be opportunities for smaller interest housing communities,” according to the infamous email.
“If the main claim to change Brown to coed is because ‘other colleges are doing it too’ let me ask this–if people are going to jump off a bridge… are you going to do it too?”Tori Brady ‘25
The reality seems to be that without ML, Brown is necessary to house the sophomores. Vanessa Graniero ‘24 started a Change.org petition that reads “One of the changes announced was that Brown Hall, a dorm designated for women and non-binary students only, would be opened up to everyone. The email stated that this was for purposes of allowing ‘flexibility’ for students choosing housing options. What this change gives to the student population is far less than what it takes away.”
The petition continues, “Brown has long been a safe space on Muhlenberg’s campus for [its] occupants. The people who choose to live in Brown choose it for a reason. That reason is oftentimes personal comfort. Some women and NB [non-binary] people are not comfortable living in close proximity to men. Whether this is based on negative past experiences or not, it is valid, and has been a choice they have been able to make. However, now, that choice is being taken away.” Additionally, some students who wear a hijab choose to live in Brown for the freedom and comfort that comes with living in a non-male space, and now this safety will also be compromised. This petition has received over 100 signatures as of Feb. 7.
Klinger says “Brown Hall has been a huge refuge and safe space for female identifying students. Many students need that housing option in order to feel safe at Muhlenberg. To strip them away of their safety for the sake of convenience is, in my opinion, unethical.”
“Incorporating men into Brown is just an obvious money grab that once again doesn’t take the students’ interests to heart,” says Sofia Tartakovskaya ‘26.
Brady says “I just think it’s ridiculous that the school thinks that by taking away the senior housing as well as making Brown a co-ed dorm it will create ‘more of a community’ by cramming everyone into more tight spaces where they will feel less comfortable… It also makes no sense to me that this decision has been made without the perspective of students, the ones who will literally be living in those dorms… Why force people to pay for higher tuition AND not be able to live in the community and environment they want and deserve?”
Despite the College’s defense of the decision, many students are left thinking that these changes are a cash grab, and one that has definitely struck a chord with the student body.