Grebel takes the risk for its students

Keeps its residence open to upper-year students despite edict from University of Waterloo to make it first-year only

September 29, 2010 | Focus On | Number 19
By Susan Fish | Conrad Grebel University College Release

Conrad Grebel University College has long tried to keep a blend of first-year and returning upper-year students in its residence program, but this year the balancing act became more complicated when the University of Waterloo insisted Grebel reserve 100 percent of its residence beds for first-year students.

Grebel said no.

“This was not who we are,” says Mary Brubaker-Zehr, Grebel’s director of student services. “Grebel would not be Grebel without a strong contingent of senior students who enhance and impact in profound ways the quality of residence life.”

At the same time, Brubaker-Zehr had concerns. She brought the matter before Grebel’s board of directors, worried that if Grebel was no longer promoted under the university’s housing guarantee, the college might suffer from lower applications. Despite this risk, the board supported the decision to stay true to Grebel’s long-time identity of having 50 percent first-year students and half upper-year students along with a variety of programs, ethnicities and faith backgrounds.  

As usual, Grebel was promoted through the University Viewbook and University of Waterloo marketing website, but not through the “guaranteed housing” website, where students choose their housing options.

In the end, Grebel received virtually the same number of applicants as other years, far more than it could ever accommodate in its residence. On move-in day, Grebel opened its doors to a blend that included 56 percent first-year students.

Brubaker-Zehr says current literature about academic success for students supports the college’s decision to remain a multi-year residence. “This is something we have always emphasized when we interview students for a place in residence,” she says. “Grebel is not just a place to eat, drink and sleep, but a place to engage, to balance study and play, to use gifts. The role-modelling that upper years provide is so valuable for younger students.”

Upper-year student Ben White says, “I spent my third year in the Grebel apartments and have come back to residence for my fourth year because I realized how vital it is that we as individuals serve others in whatever way we can. Living in a community-oriented setting like Grebel’s residence is a catalyst for serving others and allows me to better serve other people and learn from them.”

 “We are grateful that our residence is as full as ever with a terrific blend of students and we are looking forward to an exciting new year,” says Brubaker-Zehr.

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