The Hill seems to have it all: a newly renovated Saxon Suites beaming with high-quality glazed windows and an expensive barbecue area, a new 14,000-square-foot Bruin Fitness Center that features an extravagant design and all new equipment for undergraduate students, and even free HBO.
And next year, the Hill will gloat a refurbished Hedrick Study, and the Delta Terrace remodel will follow Saxon Suite’s example.
There’s only one thing missing: student voices.
UCLA Housing and Hospitality Services funds these projects with past, present and future UCLA student housing fees, but it does not use much student input when deciding on how to renovate and expand its services.
Which is a problem. Nearly 12,000 students live on the Hill, a full 40 percent of all undergraduate students, and they are being muted by Housing. UCLA Housing, in essence, has total control over where the funds are allocated and what projects get priority.
To remedy this, UCLA Housing needs to create an ad hoc student committee that would provide direct ideas and input from residents during all construction and renovations on the Hill.
For an example of this, one needs to look no further than Ackerman Union. The Associated Students UCLA Board of Directors, which runs Ackerman and other union spaces on campus like Northern Lights and the Ostin Music Center’s Music Café, has eight undergraduate and graduate student representatives to speak on behalf of the student population about where its money goes.
Most importantly, those students get to provide input before construction plans are put into place, ensuring that there is indeed a student voice in the process.
UCLA Housing claims to do the same, but in reality it simply tries to get approval for plans in which every last detail, from carpets to paint color, has already been discussed.
In an attempt to gather student input for its project plans, Housing attends one hall meeting a quarter in every court on the Hill – there are about three residence halls for every court – and comes in with pre-made plans for the spaces.
For example, two design plans, presented only to Hedrick Court residents last year for the Hedrick Study space, left little room for creative student input and were very similar in design. The only response it could gather from residents was simplistic, like “I prefer these chairs over the other choice.”
And outside of those special circumstances where there is mass student input, there is hardly any representation otherwise.
Currently, every residence hall on the Hill includes on average two housing government representative positions that act as liaison between residents and Housing administration. These students attend weekly meetings with Housing administrators to discuss any concerns and suggestions from residents. Typically, these meetings run around an hour long, which is not enough time to genuinely consider the needs of 15 different communities on the Hill.
And even those representatives can’t possibly get enough data to provide Housing with a clear picture of issues on the Hill. These suggestions only come from students who are able to attend weekly residence hall association meetings at night to have their voices heard. They then have to wait a week until the following meeting to get a response from Housing. Residents who wish to see a change in the facilities they are provided with on the Hill have to make themselves available Monday nights or schedule to meet with a Housing official to voice their input.
Basically, students who want to offer any input must make themselves available on Housing’s schedule.
Third-year biomedical engineering student Matthew Yee lived on the Hill his first two years at UCLA. He would often be greeted by residential changes at his floor meetings and felt he never got a chance to provide his opinion about his changing environment because he did not have time to attend the administrative meetings.
UCLA Housing claims to provide residents with the necessary resources to help them reach their best potential. Peter Angelis, assistant vice chancellor of housing and hospitality services, said that when a new project opens on the Hill, Housing carefully tracks feedback from students to see “if we hit the mark or if we missed it and then try to make adjustments as needed.”
And there are some other avenues for input. Yee and all other Hill residents are offered a chance once a year to complete an online Rate the Hill survey spearheaded by Residential Life. The survey seeks to track feedback on the UCLA residential experience. But the extent of any suggestions made by the students seems to end their participation once they click the submit button.
This isn’t to say the Hill is negligent – the kosher and halal food options at the dining halls and the new Westwood shuttle are all examples of the organization listening to students. But those pale in comparison, scope and importance to the actual construction going on.
If Housing did more outreach when considering plans for projects around the Hill, it would avoid situations in which it spends millions of dollars on amenities that residents do not deem necessary and instead work toward providing students with new resources they’d like to see on the Hill, such as a health facility.
In creating this space for student input, UCLA Housing will create a more tailored home for its residents. Then, the residents might, too, boast about their new resources.