Written by Evan Myers, News Editor
Furman regularly touts its connection with Greenville, and it should. The community surrounding campus is an enormous asset for students. Greenville offers students the opportunity to work fulfilling internships, eat great food, support worthwhile causes, and meet people that do not resemble the typical Furman student. Furman, on the other hand, brings wealth, reputation, and talent to the Upstate. In short, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Furman and Greenville know they are better together, and they support each other.
Although Furman consistently promotes policies that strengthen ties between Greenville and the University, there is one glaring exception: the four year residency requirement. In enforcing this restrictive policy, Furman limits its students’ relationships with the greater Greenville community. Moreover, in light of the recent decision to eliminate the off-campus exemption for senior students living in fraternity houses, the University seems more determined than ever to keep students within the confines of the “Furman bubble.”
That said, the “Furman bubble,” a term students use to describe what the University’s website calls a “strong and inclusive community that encourages collaboration and self-discovery,” has its benefits. For example, keeping students on campus cultivates a “seven year community.” Many first year students at Furman know seniors, and many seniors know first year students. Thus, while at Furman, the typical will interact with seven graduating classes.
However, the four year housing requirement also has a number of disadvantages. For example, since students are required to live on campus, they may never experience paying rent, utility bills, or other living expenses. Additionally, allowing undergraduates to live off campus would expose more students to people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. In turn, it might also bring wealth and capital to surrounding areas that could use a catalyst for economic growth.
On a more philosophical note, Furman’s policy is problematic because it makes it more difficult to access formative institutions. As Yuval Levin writes in his new book, “A Time to Build,” formative institutions call students to live out certain virtues. Performative institutions, on the other hand, encourage students to simply be themselves.
With this distinction in mind, it is fair to say that if Furman was fostering a formative campus culture it would have a much stronger rationale for its on-campus housing requirement. The University could claim to keep students on campus in order to more profoundly steep them in a certain formative tradition and culture. Instead, Furman is explicitly in the process of creating a performative campus culture. The University website even states that “your living experience is a critical part of your education, our residential campus is a place where your ideas and passions can be fully explored.”
The sort of liberal education that Furman promises, however, ought to do more than simply allow students to explore their ideas and passions. It should instill virtue and form character. Thus, since Furman itself does not aspire to be a formative institution, students should at least have the option to live off campus with easier access to institutions that might shape their character in a positive way: fraternities, social groups, community centers, churches, yoga studios, etc.
The University website also states that Furman requires students to live on campus in order to cultivate “a strong and inclusive community that encourages collaboration and self-discovery.” But this rationale is insufficient and only considers the positive aspects of the four year residency requirement.
I am all for strong and inclusive communities. I simply think that Furman’s community ought to include the richly diverse areas just outside of the campus gates. Moreover, I am all for self-discovery. However, I believe that it rarely occurs outside the confines of formative institutions. In other words, we do not discover ourselves, but good institutions shape us into new and better people. For now, Furman unfortunately offers few formative institutions, and in requiring students to live in the ‘Furman bubble’ for all four years, the University further inhibits students from accessing character-developing organizations that are critical for college-aged people.
In sum, Furman’s housing policy prevents students from fully accessing the diversity and formative institutions that lie beyond the campus gates. This hurts both the University and the surrounding community and does not align with an otherwise consistent effort to strengthen ties between Furman and Greenville. If Furman is serious about being Greenville’s University, this policy should reflect that stance and change.