The RLO Story with Jess Sweitzer

by Daniel Covington


Monday was the final day of the housing lottery. As a continuation of our last story, we interviewed RLO and Jess Sweitzer in particular. 

“With over 20 years of residence life experience, Jess joined the Centre team in June 2023 as the Director of Residence Life & Housing. Raised in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, Jess earned her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science & Psychology from Washington & Jefferson College and a Master of Education in College Student Personnel from Ohio University.  Jess oversees all things residence life and housing and supervises the Associate Director of Residence Life & Housing and the Assistant Director of Residence Life & Housing.”

I set out not to confront RLO leadership, but to have a conversation with them about the last few weeks’ housing process. This interview was over 2 hours long and sparked some much-needed questions and answers. Jessica was professional, kind, and very receptive to even the most critical of feedback. Jess actually planned to reach out to The Cento. In our last article, “RLO vs. the Students,” we interviewed students and many shared frustrations with the new housing system. In our Instagram survey, we found that 84 percent of students were unhappy with the housing system and only 2 percent were pleased. Lots of students agreed that the new system was a mess, time consuming, and does not reward seniority. People also felt that the RLO was not transparent about everything going on.

The interview:

Jess gave us an overview of what was going on behind the scenes. After she explained the process, I asked some questions.

The system change

I started with the system itself and her relation in the process of changing over to it.

Sweitzer: “The college started onboarding the system before I was here. They interviewed multiple companies, and they chose this system. We send them information about each dorm and they hand make the software to suit our needs. I have used this particular software before at another institution, that’s one of the things that made me know I could jump right in and do – I know the software, this means all I needed to do was learn the campus. What I have said to many people this semester is Julie [Wheeler] is learning the software while I was learning Centre. Since it was a new system, the great thing about this company is that we can reach out and ask questions. The number of times we had to reach out for help last week was a lot. They usually get back with us in an hour, which is very fast.”

The department

We then talked about how they as a department function and collaborate.

Sweitzer: “The three of us work very closely. We meet Mondays to go over projects and plans to help make sure we are all on the same page. Every other Tuesday, my team, the three of us and Alex, go over any odd student situations. Originally, we anticipated lots of questions to the point we blocked out all of our calendars during this time to basically only deal with questions. We did not anticipate quite the amount of questions.  Part of it is we went from an in-person system to an online system and that system was new to everyone. That meant you could not ask your friends questions, you had to come and ask us questions. You could ask your peers, but you could get wrong information and that would lead to a lot of confusion.”

The communication

One thing I noticed angered a lot of people since the previous Cento RLO article was Kendrick Durham’s emails. I explained to Jess that they felt misleading and akin to a copout, formulated to ease reactions and to save face in the wake of the anger from students and parents.

Sweitzer: “And that wasn’t the intent. I worked on that email with Kendrick among others with the intent to try and correct some of the misinformation and to especially answer some of those commonly asked questions. I checked almost every person bit by bit to make sure it worked the way it was supposed to because we kept hearing things that just weren’t possible. There were some things that I did learn in our process that were lessons for all of us. We had students saying the last system was based off of seniority, grades, conduct and other things but in reality, it was just seniority. The intention with the email was to correct some of that information and it was very unfortunate to hear it did the opposite.”

“Because I am sarcastic in my private life, it’s really hard to make sure that anything I am saying doesn’t come off in a bad way. The other piece is I am a very direct communicator. I am that person who is like ‘this is what it is,’ I’m not going to make it flowery. I think that sometimes it can come off as abrupt when all I want to do is not waste your time and get you the information you need. ‘This is what I need you to know, here you go. Good day.’ Most people don’t care what day I have, I just need the information. This is how I view the questions.” 

The information

Speaking of questions, communication, and information, I asked about all the information – including instructions for the new system and information around the physical rooms to help people make decisions. I explained how it was confusing and though there was some information, it could be much improved. Sweitzer agreed. I suggested a video walkthrough that went through different scenarios for every type of Centre student and video walkthroughs or room dimensions for the rooms. 

Sweitzer: “When we had room dimensions, they were very inaccurate. They decided to just do away with them as a whole, as we felt they were just not as big of a help as people would think. I want to be able instead of having room dimensions to have video walkthroughs of every dorm. It’s a project that I have reached out to our communications group [about], and they are on board. It is a big project but we are in the process of getting it done for next year.”

Off-campus housing

Off-campus housing was another big topic students asked me to look into. Some students complained the whole process was messy, unclear, and more were getting declined than before. This is a hot topic for those who are unhappy living on campus because of the state of housing and they would rather live off campus because it is cheaper.

Sweitzer: “I’m going to give a little history of that. We are returning to our pre-COVID era of off-campus living. Prior to COVID, we didn’t allow students off campus unless they met certain criteria because we are a residential college. We want our students to live on the campus. When COVID became a thing, we allowed more students to live off campus to maintain a lower density in our halls. But now we are in a more endemic phase of our society, so we are returning to pre-COVID policies.”

I then asked a more specific question pertaining to individuals who preferred the way it was. “What do you say to individuals who really don’t like housing on campus and prefer living off campus and saving the money?” 

Sweitzer: “I would say that there is a lot more that goes into paying to live on campus than just the dorm itself. People do not realize that while paying for the dorm they are also paying for water, internet, electricity, garbage, etc. I will say also that Centre is a residential campus as we have always portrayed ourselves – that is who we are as a campus, that is a part of the Centre experience. That is why I am working to try and make sure our students have options they can actually be happy with. When you have buildings this old, they can’t always be fixed overnight.” All this being said, Sweitzer emphasized that “Some decisions I just enforce or carry out. Not every decision that comes from this office is actually my decision, sometimes they get handed down as directives from the college for what they want to see happen.”

Study abroad

Students have had trouble finding roommates. People also wanted the roommate list earlier. 

“Normally we would have people fill out the form and then we could send them over to the office that houses everything ‘study abroad,’ and they would talk to them and get the list, and we had conversations previously about this. This is also how I was informed it worked in the past. Unfortunately, that person had left their role and there was someone new, therefore it became a communication error as they didn’t know what students were talking about when they were sent over there to get the list. We were able to resolve that.”

Study rooms

Are they legal, and do they suck? I told Jess: “People think these are windowless illegal hell holes, and students avoid them at all cost.” 

Jess smiled but stated: “They are fire safe and do pass code. The Fire Marshall did come in and say ‘yes, this is good.’ This being said, they do not have exterior windows, that is the problem. We would like to have exterior windows but, as of now, we do not.”

RA contracts

I asked Jess about the controversy surrounding the new RA contracts.

Sweitzer: “When I got here, essentially each RA was supposed to be on call 24/7 for their own floor every day, the entire year. That is not considered a best practice anywhere – that’s not even considered an okay practice anywhere. It is considered a horrible practice in my field. I knew coming in we were going to have to make changes. I also knew that RAs had signed up for one job and what I was trying to make happen was going to be vastly different, so I tried to baby step that along the way and it just did not go as well as I would have thought. My concern is that they know what they are signing when they sign it. This year for the 24-25 academic year, we have a very comprehensive list of responsibilities because I wanted to write it all out. I wanted to be clear with them what the job actually entailed. That is important, for everything to be documented and to try to be transparent in what we ask people to do. I think because we have never really done that, or at least in a bit of time that that is something that we have not done a good job with, it made it a little harder. I think seeing something maybe one page to a lot of pages made a difference and was scary.”

Final remark

Sweitzer: “Overall, we are just closing the housing process right now and so anytime we do anything after the fact, we need to sit down and say what went well, what could be better, what went poorly, and finally what changes do we need to make. We will be sitting down and doing that for this system and try to see what we can do to make this system better. Even if it hadn’t gone this way, it’s still something that is necessary to do to keep improving.”


Communication was one of the biggest problems: the RLO has room for improvement in terms of reaching out to students, giving more detailed information, working out bugs and glitches, and getting everyone fully experienced with the systems. Misinformation and rumors were also big hurdles.

Students think things could have been handled better, but there has to be something said for any new system. Nothing new is perfect but we hope Jess and her team are hard at work to make the process the way it should be.

It would be nice if we could get aspects that people liked so much with the older system with the efficiency of the newer one – especially the use of only seniority. This would solve problems such as underclassmen obtaining housing assignments before some seniors.

We hope this story brings insight to the housing issues. We appreciate the opportunity to interview multiple students and the ability to have an interview and even a dialogue with RLO leadership.

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