5 Questions with the new Director of Off-Campus Student Life

    Photo by Emily Jan / North by Northwestern

    Tony Kirchmeier began working at Northwestern University January 9 with the creation of a new Director of Off-Campus Life position in the Division of Student Affairs this year. He recently spoke with North by Northwestern about his position, and problems and solutions associated with living off-campus.

    North by Northwestern: What was your previous job and what brought you to Northwestern?

    Tony Kirchmeier: I used to work at Southern Illinois University Carbondale as Chief Academic Advisor for the College of Business. My wife and I both obtained jobs here, so here we are. She is the Assistant Vice President for Student Auxiliary Services.

    NBN: What does your job as Director of Off-Campus Life entail on a day-to-day basis?

    TK: I’m still in information gathering mode, meeting with various directors on campus about their areas and what resources there are at this school. I’ve gone to a couple of community events, such as the Evanston Tenants’ Rights and Responsibilities meeting in the Civic Center. I went to a Big Ten Consortium for international students. I happened to meet with [Director of Norris University Center] Richard Thomas, who showed me the Men and Women Off Campus Commuter Lounge. I thought, ‘Hm, men off campus, women off campus, and me, Director of Off-Campus Life?’ I should know about this space and the people that use it. There’s a lot of institutional history at Northwestern, and I need to collect all these little pieces of information like this, find out about the resources already available and put it into a digestible format for students.

    NBN: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing students looking to move off campus and how do you hope to help them overcome it?

    TK: When students move off-campus, it’s great, they like the freedom, the new responsibility, new control of their guests and friends. But they miss a connection somehow. That connection is a little bit different for everybody. Usually it’s the social aspect – in the residence halls, if you’re restless and want a break from studying, you can just go down the hallway to watch TV and there will be people around, whereas if you live off campus, you still probably have a TV, cell phone and computer, but it’s not exactly the same.

    Eating is a concern too. I was talking to a student who said his health has gone down since moving off. He gained weight, was drained of energy and didn’t feel good all around. He ate vegetables only when he ordered it as an extra pizza topping. I suggested he get a 6 meal a week plan, try to get vegetables at least once a week. Everybody is different, and the best thing we can do is provide resources, try to explain alternatives to students. We’ve talked briefly about identifying quick healthy recipes that students can cook at home. Maybe we’ll ask for submissions from students. That's probably far down the road, as there are more immediate issues right now, but it’s come up as an issue. We’re paying attention and will respond in some way.

    Before I came here, Betsi Burns, the assistant dean, started an off-campus website. We will continue to add to that. We’ll be adding additional resources through social media. We also want to do some weblogs and print material to push information out there. We're going to organize workshops and meetings for people looking to move from an on-campus to an off-campus experience. I will be meeting with the Off-Campus Advisory Board, too. We will work with students in many formats, create lots for ways for them to access information and resources.

    NBN: What did you think of the first-ever ASG Housing Fair earlier this quarter, and how could it be improved for future years?

    TK: There was good participation. I thought it was a good first start. In future years, we will have the fair have more, more, more. More information. More landlords. One of the landlords I talked to said now that he’s done it once, he knows how to 'up his game' a bit as a landlord. He was giving out his business card and a sheet, but others brought laptops with pictures to ‘show you around’ the apartments and had material available online. It’s a better and quicker way of reaching students, who are up until 2 a.m. and might be doing their housing research late at night. We will use more technology resources.

    NBN: How are you approaching the three-unrelated ordinance? What role will you play in its impact on students?

    TK: It's still a hot issue. We will, do and have been making the student perspective known, but ultimately this all rests in city council and its voting process. They are reviewing it now. If they start to enforce it after the suspension ends July 1, we will provide all the information about the policy and direct students to the correct city resources. Students will make their own decisions and we can't tell them what to do, but we can warn them that they're entering a risky situation if they decide to violate the 'you plus two' rule.


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