William and Mary Digest: Sept. 27

Housing guide aims to aid students

On Aug. 31, the College of William and Mary revealed to more than 4,800 students its first-ever guide to finding off-campus housing in the greater Williamsburg area.

Student Affairs staff and the college’s Neighborhood Relations Committee helped craft the guide, which highlights a couple sites students can use as they pursue housing choices: wmoffcampus.com and whoseyourlandlord.com.

“That will allow students to better evaluate potential landlords, ultimately using their collective economic power as renters to hopefully ensure other student renters have a positive relationship with an effective landlord,” associate provost Jeremy Martin said.

An email from staff to students also detailed students’ rights as tenants in the area. Many times, Martin said, students enter their housing contracts largely uninformed.

“Often students sign leases without fully considering clauses like responsibility for maintenance and other potentially costly aspects,” said associate provost Jeremy Martin.

Martin said the guide is especially important to undergraduate students, many of whom are moving away the comfort and protection of family for the very first time.

“Often, our students are living independently for the first time, so they may not have thought of things like trash pickup or the lifestyle differences of folks within the same neighborhood,” Martin said. “We wanted them to know some basic aspects of being a good neighbor from the moment they move into a new community.”

‘Hidden Figures’ ties to college initiative

William and Mary assigned the book “Hidden Figures” to its incoming freshmen to read as part of its common book program. The book is centered around the lives of three African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s. All three women, working at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, were integral to the success of the nation’s space programs.

Classical studies professor John Donahue said he hoped the assigned book would give students a fulsome perspective of that history and its ties to the college.

“Really, what we’re trying to do with the common book program is provide a shared intellectual experience for incoming students, and … we feel very strongly that it’s appropriate to give freshmen a book that demonstrates or exemplifies the liberal arts in all its richness and diversity, and we feel this book, Hidden Figures, fits the bill quite nicely,” he said.

The college is using this academic year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the African-American women who integrated the college’s dormitories. The book and that initiative coincide well, Donahue said.

“Just as the pathbreaking and pathfinding women of NASA, the ‘human computers,’ as they’re called in this story, broke down barriers, so, too, do we have on our own campus pioneers who were themselves remarkable pathbreakers,” he said. “The book then compels us to recognize our own troubled past while commemorating the courage of those who are not afraid to fight for equality and justice, whether it was at NASA or right here in Williamsburg.”

College accepts higher number of Pell-eligible students

Heading into the fall semester, the college saw a 20 percent increase in its number of students who qualify for Pell grants. The grant is given by the federal government to low-income students in pursuit of their first bachelor’s degree.

“Higher education is one pathway to socio-economic mobility. As a public university, William & Mary has an abiding commitment to serving the entirety of the Commonwealth of Virginia and of expanding opportunities for its citizens,” provost Michael Halleran said. “We have made progress, but we must maintain the momentum, remaining focused on improving socio-economic diversity at William & Mary.” As part of these efforts, last spring, the university hosted a major conference, “Higher Education and Social Mobility.”

The percentage of eligible students is one way to measure how economically diverse a college’s population is. Staff saw recent increases in the proportion of freshmen with Pell grants. Among in-state freshmen, 16 percent of the most recent class are Pell-eligible, whereas 14 percent were last year.

“That’s something we’re very excited about,” associate provost for enrollment Tim Wolfe said.

This story was created with information from William and Mary’s news department.

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