Department of Resident Life Director Deb Grandner
Department of Resident Life Director Deb Grandner

The impact of the university’s move to the Big Ten athletic conference may soon extend beyond the athletic program and into residential life and on-campus housing.

Last month, Department of Resident Life Director Deb Grandner attended the Big Ten Housing Officers Conference — held at the University of Michigan — to learn about diverse housing and residential life programs other schools in the conference have launched. Because of the parallels between many of the 12 schools in the conference and this university, successful programs at other Big Ten institutions could become models for implementation on this campus, Grandner said.

“[The conference] allowed me to learn from colleagues about different programs and services that they offer, and how they do business and to talk about issues that are similar across institutions,” she said. “One of the reasons that I enjoyed it so much was that so many of the schools are similar, in size and scope, to the University of Maryland.”

Over the course of almost two days, university housing representatives discussed diversity education programs, sexual assault education, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, resident assistant selection processes, salary packages for staff, student success plans, parent communications and strategic plans across campuses, among other issues.

“The exchange is very helpful to all the schools because we learn from each other so much, and are often able to adapt ideas from other schools,” said Peter Logan, communication director for the University of Michigan’s housing.

Grandner said Resident Life would be open to adopting or adapting programs from other institutions in the Big Ten, such as the University of Minnesota’s Step Up program, a bystander intervention program that includes a five-step decision-making process and considers strategies, scenarios and factors involved when recognizing and intervening in an emergency or nonemergency situation.

Other housing programs focus on issues such as social justice. At Michigan, diversity peer educators help develop multicultural appreciation among peers from many different backgrounds, Logan said.

“It’s been very successful, and it’s been very important to our mission in housing,” he said. “We are helping educate the individual in terms of how their actions have consequences and impacts on others.”

In addition to residential housing programs, aging infrastructure itself is always an issue, one Michigan has addressed by renovating dorms to make spaces more conducive to living and social activities, Logan said.

With construction projects such as Prince Frederick Hall are taking shape at this university, Resident Life seems to be ahead of the curve in some areas, such as gender-inclusive housing, officials said. The university offers mixed-gender and gender-inclusive housing on a case-by-case basis in dorms. And for students who live in South Campus Commons and Courtyards, there is a selection of mixed-gender apartments.

“That’s a big difference from a lot of schools that I’m really proud of,” said Amy Martin, Resident Life associate director. “I think the Big Ten schools are all over the place in terms of mixed-gender and gender-inclusive housing. We’re kind of forward in our thinking and processes.”

Gender inclusiveness has been one of Michigan’s priorities since 2005, and the school recently expanded gender-inclusive living to a new quad, but students must contact the housing office to access this option, Logan said.

Resident Life is working on a strategic housing plan that will shape the future of university housing, including renovations and residential programs, for the next 15 to 20 years, which the department will unveil near the end of the semester.

“I think one of the most interesting [aspects] for me, since we’re involved in a strategic plan, was to be able to talk to institutions who were all at different stages in their strategic planning,” Grandner said. “It helps me look creatively at our process for ways we can enhance our program and save revenue.”