Living next door to Alice

Finding accommodation for both first-years and returning students has become a grave problem. Samantha Scott, Danielle Brock and Ilana Koegelenberg investigate one of the solutions: Celeste House, a mixed-sex residence.

It’s sometimes irritating living with only girls or only guys, and far more irritating to have to adhere to intervisiting rules. Enter Celeste House – the new, off-campus, co-ed residence. This last minute addition to Drostdy Hall came as a surprise to many – and was greeted by mixed reactions from parents and students alike.
 
The decision for Celeste House to be turned from a transit house for academics to a co-ed residence was largely due to the demand of both male and female students seeking accommodation. This recently renovated apartment block, already owned by the University, is situated on the corner of African and Somerset Street, and houses 51 students. The two bottom floors have been allocated to the male students and the top floor is home to the women. There are separate common rooms provided on the different floors and separate decoders allow for both sexes to enjoy the entertainment of their preference. There is, however, only a single laundry room to be shared. The main corridors lead to mainly double rooms grouped into clusters, each with its own bathroom and kitchen area.
As with other on-campus residences, standard house rules are being enforced for both the male and female students, but no sign-in system for intervisiting has been implemented yet. The issue of security has been raised, but Dr Iain L’Ange, the Director of Residential Operations, has said that Celeste is “probably one of the most secure residences”. Celeste has its own private Hi-Tec security guard, and is surrounded by palisade fencing. Like most other residences, it also has multiple dallas chip entries to ensure entrance for students and their guests only. Plans are also being made to place this residence on the security Blue Route.

The residence is represented by Rhodes’ only co-ed house committee, but the sole appointment of a male warden, Kasongo Wa Kasongo, has led to questions as to whether an equal distribution of power is in place. However, in lieu of a female warden, head student Zoë Hinis represents the female students. The current opinion of Celeste is that her presence is adequate, and there is no need for a female warden too. There is a definite feel of community in a residence that Hinis has described as being a “more natural system”.

Although this arrangement is merely a trial, both students and house committee members are fighting for permanent residence in Celeste. Many students arrived sceptical at first and one parent refused to let their child stay in the residence, immediately insisting on a transfer. In the end the comfortable environment and “chilled vibe” has won over the students. Qaqambe Juqu, a first year pharmacy student and resident of Celeste House, says “We all connect; we all know each other.”

A few glitches still need to be sorted out like the lack of showers, which should replace the baths, and Resnet. Some students are unhappy with the idea of only the female students acquiring mirrors and the males provided with notice boards. With the help of the SRC these issues will be attended to in the near future, although some problems, like the noisy neighbourhood, cannot be changed.

A major concern of those who do not live in Celeste is its off-campus status. Regardless of its position, the “long walk” to the Drostdy dining hall, where the Celeste residents take their meals, only takes around two minutes. Michael Davies, first year BJourn student said that Celeste is “not such a long crawl from a night out”, and although it is relatively further from campus, Celeste is situated closer to places such as Peppergrove Mall and New Street. Hinis also feels that another advantage of being off-campus is that it fights the feeling of cabin fever many students experience. Despite its location, however, the first-year students of Celeste were not alienated from the O-Week experience. Students took part in regular activities including the traditional serenading in the mornings. Celeste even plans to compete in the annual inter-res sporting competition and are proud of their very enthusiastic soccer team.

Described as the ‘last hope res’, the opening of Celeste House signified the university’s interest in addressing the shortage in student accommodation. Annually the University increases its student intake by approximately two percent. While many students choose to move into digs, the ever-growing demand for residence housing still persists. To try and accommodate this demand, Rhodes is currently in the process of adding two new residences to Kimberly Hall. According to L’Ange they are exploring the possibility of dividing the hall to keep it at an optimum size. He added that if further accommodation is needed in the future, additional residences will be added to Nelson Mandela Hall. However, this decision is still only in principle, and none of these future plans are final.

Rhodes’ expansion does not only concern accommodation, however, and concerns all facets of the university. L’Ange says that “all the brain power of the university is working on this issue”, which includes ongoing debate about issues such as the introduction of new courses and subjects as well as the amount of students that will attend the university. There is also a need for additional lecture theatres, bigger laboratories, more computer facilities and tighter security on campus. However, there are no further plans for off-campus accommodation.
Another big concern is the capability of the town itself. Grahamstown has minimal space to expand and one can question whether its infrastructure has the ability to cope with such a demand. There have been several accounts of water shortages recently and this still excludes anticipated growth of the student body.

The proposed growth of Rhodes University is a process that will take a number of years, and all assurances have been given that the quality of education and living will be preserved.  But will Rhodes’s unique character also be preserved? Perhaps the only way to find out would be to come back here in ten years’ time and ask a new generation of Celeste House residents how they feel at Rhodes.

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