Oak Creek faces challenge of community bonding

Oct. 3, 2013, 1:32 a.m.

For students living in Oak Creek, life is unlike anywhere else at Stanford.

The undergraduate community placed into the Oak Creek Apartments complex has grown every year since it was first used for student housing in 2009; this fall, there are 120 students living there, with that number expected to more than double in winter quarter to 250 as students return from studying abroad.

Edith Wu-Nguyen, who, along with her husband John serve as the residential fellows at Oak Creek, describes the experience of living at Oak Creek as very different from that of other housing arrangements.

“I always say [Oak Creek] is a really great place to live, and a really hard place to live as a Stanford student for lots of reasons…Stanford is such a residentially based campus,” Wu-Nguyen said.

Because Oak Creek is off-campus and a significant walk or bike ride from central campus buildings, living at the complex complicates daily routines ranging from dining to bringing books to class.

“Oak Creekers sometimes get stressed,” Wu-Nguyen said. “They have to think, ‘Okay, what do I need for today? I have to carry all that on my back, bring all that to school.’”

Hector Santa Cruz ’15, who is living in Oak Creek for the first time this quarter, works his schedule around the long transit time.

“It’s a 10 to 15 minute bike ride, so instead of coming back between classes or during the day, I’ll hang out at Tresidder and read or something,” Santa Cruz said.

Since 2009, Wu-Nguyen and Housing have worked to provide more accessible transportation for Oak Creek residents.

A Marguerite shuttle service added last winter quarter has proven very popular and useful for night transportation to and from Oak Creek. In addition, 5-SURE, the free security escort service, now offers rides to the apartments, made possible when it began using street-legal cars. For transport during the day, there are two other Marguerite lines that stop at the apartments.

Beyond the distance from campus, another downside of living in housing inhabited by non-Stanford residents is the lack of a sense of community. Of the buildings’ 700 apartments, Stanford leases around 150, and residents often do not know if their neighbor or a person in the hallway is a student or an outside resident.

“It feels like it’s the summer because I cook meals, and instead of going to work I go to school and come back,” Santa Cruz said. “It’s more like real life than living in a dorm.”

Exacerbating this problem is the fact that, with a few exceptions, Stanford undergraduates in Oak Creek are all upperclassmen involved with other communities and responsibilities.

“We can have planned programs, but a lot of people don’t come because they have classes, they have work and they have other commitments,” Wu-Nguyen said.

Relations between Stanford students and non-Stanford residents vary, but Wu-Nguyen and the Residential Assistants work to ensure that all residents are treated equally and abide by community rules. That said, a recent increase from roommate pairs to three-person groups led to an increase in room complaints.

“The walls are really thin,” Santa Cruz. “We got a noise complaint at 11 p.m. for playing music on a computer.”

On the one hand, Oak Creek apartments are larger than dorm rooms, with two-bedroom apartments featuring a living room, a kitchen and a dining area. However, complex includes a swimming pool, a hot tub, tennis courts and other amenities, to which most undergraduates do not have access.

“Oak Creek is cool because it’s an apartment, but I don’t feel like I’m at Stanford when I’m here,” said Alex Glaze ’15, another first-time residence of the complex.

Larger freshman classes in recent years are primary drivers for the growing undergraduate community in Oak Creek, as Stanford-owned dormitories become filled and students are left unassigned.

According to Wu-Nguyen, future construction in Lagunita Court and Manzanita should provide enough housing to substantially decrease the number of leased units in Oak Creek, bringing more students back on campus within the next few years.

Contact Baker Tilney at [email protected].

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