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Students in the Scholar Leader Program forced to leave if they cannot meet the housing requirement

Students who were accepted into Miami University’s Scholar Leader Community are being forced to withdraw their acceptance unless they commit to living in the program’s designated dorms come September, according to the director of the Harry T. Wilks Center for Leadership and Service, Eric Buller, and several students involved in the program. 

Those who had to leave the year-long leadership program, which is centered around its living-learning community (LLC), also lost their scholarship which Buller said was approximately  $1,200 per student.

The goal of the Scholar Leader Program is to create a community that is dedicated to increasing leadership and scholarship between members and in the Miami community, according to the Wilks Leadership Institute’s website. 

Buller explained how the need for a community factored into the decision of maintaining the living requirement.

“In the spring, we attempted to try to maintain a virtual community but that was in the absence of really any guidelines around how [the] LLC should continue to operate,” Buller said. “Given what the decision is [this] fall and the different options [for students], the guidance that we've received has been that, because it is a residential experience, you should be living in a residence hall.”

Claire Schoenfeld is a sophomore professional writing and media and culture double major. Schoenfeld intended to participate in the scholar leaders program this year but instead opted to live off-campus for safety and academic reasons. 

After Schoenfeld found out she would not be able to participate in the program if she lived off-campus, she fought the decision. 

“I drafted a pretty long email, and I appealed to them … I got a bunch of other people to sign onto it, too,” Schoenfield said. “I was kind of clinging onto that and trying to get them to change their mind.”

The email was sent to the Office of Residence Life and its director Vicka Bell-Robinson, the Wilks Institute for Leadership and Service and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Jason Osborne. Buller said that the email led to several meetings that aimed to provide students with solutions.

“We reviewed the guidance provided from the university and from the division, and then we developed the different options for students,” Buller said. “Those were approved through divisional leadership, and then I drafted a letter that went out to all members of the community.” 

Buller said that students who couldn't live in the dorms this fall but still wanted to participate in the program were presented with two alternative options. 

These students could return to the dorms in the spring and take part in a leadership certificate program or their spot in the community could be held for the next academic year.

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“Their letter really helped us move it along in a better way,” Buller said. “Even though they didn't get it to where it's a fully virtual community that everyone can participate in, we still think we came up with some really fair and equitable options.”

Kalynne Corson intended to participate in the program before deciding to defer her enrollment to the spring semester. The would-be sophomore majoring in biology premedical studies said the option to hold her spot in the program next year is one of value. 

“It's nice that they're providing [that option]. You have an easy in for next year… It's still the same program that I wanted to be in,” Corson said. 

Schonfeld said that living in the Scholar Leader dorms next year is not an option for her. She came into college with a lot of credits and intends to graduate in 2022. 

“There's, like, a number of other people who are supposed to graduate next year. A lot of people study abroad or intern, or a lot of other things during their third year of college. That's just not viable for us,” Schonfeld said.

Buller said it is unlikely that students who left the program would be invited back if the rest of the semester becomes virtual. 

The Scholar Leaders are required to participate in a course that is currently online but that intends to proceed in-person when students return to campus. Those who left the program were dropped from the course and, thus, would not be able to join later in the semester regardless of the university’s decision about how classes should proceed. 

“Those people who are currently in the community … are also taking a course. So they're all enrolled in EDL 290, and that's the way that the community would continue to be managed online,” Buller said.

Sophomore Hailea Tucker, who is majoring in psychology, social work and individualized studies, decided to remain in the program this year. Buller said she is one of approximately 35 students who made the same decision. Typically, the program hosts around 75 students a year. 

Tucker said she would prefer to remain home this semester but felt she had little choice.

“The threat of losing or not being able to go be in Scholar Leaders was kind of that thing where it's like, ‘I need to go back because I want this part of my resume,’” Tucker said, “I need this experience. I can't really afford just to have, like, a gap semester.”

Tuckers said that although she sees the university’s side, she doesn’t think their decision is just. 

“I think [the university] should have been flexible and understanding,” Tucker said. “Every other policy has been changed. Why is this just an exception?”

A previous version of this story referred to the Director of the Harry T. Wilks Center for Leadership and Service by the incorrect last name. His name is Eric Buller, and the story has been updated to reflect that correction.