The future of UT Housing is approaching slowly, as projects across campus slowly transform from blueprints to buildings. While Fred Brown Hall, Gibbs Hall and a renovated Clement Hall represent long-term goals, administrators are also appealing to current Vols with more immediate, internal changes.
Frank Cuevas, executive director of UT Housing and assistant vice chancellor for Student Life, recognized UT's need to address outdated infrastructure.
"I think that over time, our facilities have hurt us," he said. "The fact that we're building the first new residence hall in 43 years is telling."
In anticipation of next fall, UT now offers several new options to campus residents, like 12-month housing contracts and expanded co-ed housing. For Cuevas, the changes mark the beginning of an "exciting time" for UT, and a conscious effort to "be responsive" to the student body and their requests.
Perhaps, then, the future of UT Housing is already here.
Daily Beacon: Can you explain what 12-month housing is?
Frank Cuevas: In reality, we have offered 12-month housing in the past. Back when we set up graduate and family housing, we would offer year-round housing, and most of those people were on a month-to-month contract, so they'd live there year-round. When we went ahead and closed those facilities down, we were really under the traditional nine-month contract. From our perspective, I thought it was an interesting opportunity because we have a number of international students that may be in need for year-round housing. Aside from international students, we have domestic students who might have a job or an internship in Knoxville that may find it attractive if we were to offer a 12-month contract.
DB: Where will these 12-months housing apartments be?
FC: We've decided to try a pilot program and hold back a floor in Laurel to see if we'd have some interest from students.
DB: How much demand has there been for 12-month housing? How many spaces are still open?
FC: I think we're about a third of the way on the floor, to my understanding. We had 30 students requesting interest, and I think we've contracted about a dozen or so already, and that was before we actually had the press release go out or had targeted emails go out. I remain optimistic that we'll be able to hopefully fill the floor up.
DB: Are freshmen eligible, too?
FC: Potentially even freshmen. I say potentially if freshmen take us up on the option. Most freshmen go back home after their first year. What we're mostly seeing is mainly sophomores, juniors, some grads. But a freshman could if they really wanted to.
DB: Have you seen a trend in increased demand for "super single" rooms here at UT?
FC: The demand for super singles here has been up and down in terms of the request. Part of it is trying to find the right price point for students. Some schools will offer the super single if (students) pay the other half of the price to get the full room. I don't think we would have many students who would want to pay the full price. It would depend on the institution and the pricing for this. I think that (demand) varies by campus, and that it varies here. Some years, we've had more demand for super singles. I think we used to see it quite a bit a couple of years ago with quite a bit of demand for it, but it's diminished because we've done some other things to create different spaces for students.
DB: Has there been any movement toward the incorporation of gender-neutral housing at UT?
FC: Not on the gender-neutral piece. What we have done is we've made a few more spaces co-ed by floor. Fred Brown gives us the ability because it's pod-like. You can have one section of the floor be all-men, and then have this section of the floor be all-women, and then have the RA room between. There's a small lobby that allows for co-ed. I think that as we look at designs for the future and other facilities, that's something we need to keep in mind to address other needs out there. In (Fred Brown), when we started looking, we saw there was an opportunity for us to do something a little bit different. I think that the student response is going to be pretty well-received. I think that if you even look at Morrill, we're podding with men and women on certain wings of LLC floors.
DB: Do you see an increase in the amount of co-ed floors next year?
FC: It's going to probably be a washout, with Clement closing for one year. What you bring into Fred Brown is a wash. I think when Clement comes back on, you'll probably see an increase on that. When you have that one building come back on line, you're probably going to see more of the co-ed.
DB: You mentioned that Housing takes feedback from student leaders, RAs, United Residence Hall Council members, and from the general student population through two annual surveys. How is that feedback used in planning future Housing projects?
FC: As we look at new projects, we are actually (using student input). We are going tomorrow (last Thursday) to the University of Kentucky's university housing and we're going to drive up there for the day. We're taking some students with us to gauge feedback but also talk to students there and get their opinion. I think it's important to get student feedback in any new design because ultimately it's the students that are living there.
DB: What changes have been made in response to negative student feedback?
FC: An example was when we asked them about Internet activity in the halls two years ago. I noticed that was an item that was poorly rated, so that summer, we invested a lot of money to improve Internet connectivity in the halls and we saw a significant improvement in satisfaction the year after because we administer that survey the following year.