While McGill offers numerous residences at both the downtown and Macdonald campuses, over 3,000 students choose to live off-campus in their first year. A recent survey conducted by the First Year Council found that three-quarters of surveyed off-campus students had trouble meeting people, compared to less than half of residence students.
Over three-quarters of off-campus students surveyed also stated that they felt little or no belonging to McGill, compared to less than one-fifth of residence students.
The Off Campus Fellow program was implemented in 2010 to address these feelings of isolation by offering events, and social and informational support, for students living off-campus.
The funding for the program under Residence Life has not been renewed for the upcoming academic year. Residence Life Program Advisor and supervisor of the Off Campus Fellow Program Victoria Villalba noted, “As a self-financing operation, [Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS)] cannot really justify continuing to spend money paid to us by resident students on programming not directly for students in our residences.”
Events are organized by four salaried Fellows, and the program itself is currently supervised and financed by Residence Life, a part of SHHS.
“A lot of the events that we do mimic the kinds that Rez students enjoy (such as Off Campus Fest, our 450-person alternative to Rez Fest that we organized in the summer), but we also try to reach out to the Montreal community as a whole,” wrote Off Campus Fellow Alice Feldman in an email to The Daily.
“At least twice a month, we venture out into downtown and other parts of Montreal [to show what] this city already has to offer – all while remaining friendly to the environment and the wallet.”
Dylan Smith, an exchange student from the U.S. who participates in the program, added, “I’ve been to pretty much every [event] It’s a diverse bunch of events and not all of them involve drinking.”
An open letter and petition addressing the end of funding noted, “There have been no measures taken to guarantee the placement of the program under an alternative, relevant supervising department at the University.”
“I think the program should exist for sure,” current off-campus student Lea Begis told The Daily. “I would totally recommend it to off-campus students; [in fact] I already did [so].”
“Ideally we’d like to find a new home for this program in time for it to continue to operate next year,” Villalba said. “[But] we have not yet begun formal discussions with stakeholders on how and where it could be housed, or how it might link in to, or be replaced by, other programs already offered on campus.”
The open letter also emphasized the importance of the program’s existence, noting that “the removal of this program could place an unnecessary burden on other student services such as First Year Council, McGill International Students Network, McGill Mental Health, academic advising offices, [et cetera].”
Feldman agreed with these concerns, adding, “The scope of the [Off Campus Fellow] Program is incredible: we target first-year students from Montreal that live at home, first year international students who chose not to live in Rez, exchange and transfer students in their first year at McGill – we even have some graduate students who do events for us because McGill does not have an extensive graduate student network.”
Feldman continued, “For many of these students, [the Off Campus Fellow Program] is the only resource at McGill that is specifically oriented to tackle the problems that these students face.”