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Living at UMass: Residential First-Year Experience and Defined Residential Communities

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Group of UMass students Text: Residential Communities at UMass Amherst

Where you live — and with whom — plays a crucial role in your college experience.

With 52 residence halls and apartment buildings grouped into seven separate and very different residential areas (CentralCommonwealth Honors College Residential CommunityNortheastOrchard HillSouthwestSylvan, and North), deciding what residential area is the right fit for you can be intimidating. But no matter who you are and where your interests lie, you are bound to find a place to call home at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Each residential area has its own distinctive characteristics, inspired in part by location and in part by the different cultural or academic living/learning programs housed within. Students have the opportunity to live in Learning Communities and live on a floor designated for students who share social identities, lifestyle preferences, or cultural bonds. Others may join Residential First-Year Experience halls or Residential Academic Programs like I did my first year here at UMass, or in various other Special Housing Options.

Let’s take a look at what it is like to live in a Residential First-Year Experience and Defined Residential Communities here at UMass Amherst. 

Living in a Residential First-Year Experience

Residential First-Year Experience is a unique living experience designed to help first-year students successfully transition into the academic, social, and personal demands of college. It offers a variety of living and learning opportunities in five different residential areas (Northeast, Southwest, Central, Orchard Hill and the Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community), allowing students to find their place on campus no matter what their interests may be.

First-year students also have the option to further their residential learning experience by joining a Residential Academic Program (RAP) within your first-year hall. The RAP program allows students to live amongst others with a shared interest or academic focus, and some even have courses held right in the halls in which they live.

My Residential Academic Program Experience (RAP)

During my first year at UMass, I was a part of a Residential Academic Program in Van Meter Hall in the Central Residential area. Here, I took an Anthropology course (Anthro 104: Culture, Society and People) with other students with similar interests all while living right next door to my classmates. What I loved about my RAP experience was that not only was I able to have a class in my dorm and fulfill a General Education Requirement, I was able to bond with those in my hall over the class and similar interests. The friends that I made in my RAP are still my close friends even now as a junior. I highly suggest anyone considering a Residential Academic Program to go for it and enjoy the experience, I know it was truly a unique and memorable one for me. 

Living in a Defined Residential Community 

Defined Residential Communities (DRCs) are hallways in residence halls where students live with hallmates who share similar interests, backgrounds, and identities. These communities are not restricted by major and are open to all sophomore, junior and senior students interested in the particular focus area.

Defined Residential Communities are an ideal choice for students who are looking for a dynamic, hands-on way to learn about the variety of cultures and lifestyles represented at UMass Amherst. Students typically apply to live in these communities during the winter of the previous academic year. The application process is very easy and gets your housing settled for the next academic year earlier than standard housing, giving you the ease of securing a place to live early on. 

Here is the current list of Defined Residential communities on campus: 

  • Nuance: Multicultural Student Community Southwest Area: Nuance is designed for students who want to explore and bridge commonalities and differences across their diverse social identities, including race/ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic class. Students will develop awareness, knowledge, and skills to collaboratively create an inclusive residential community.
  • Asian/Asian American Student Community Northeast Area: The Asian/Asian American Community emphasizes the value of understanding the links between Asian and Asian American issues in an era of global migration, media, and capital.
  • Harambee: African/African American Student Community Southwest Area: Harambee, Swahili for “the pulling together point” or “the point at which all things come together,” is an inclusive and supportive community that honors African/African American/Black identities and provides intentional space for African/African American/Black cultures.
  • Spectrum: LGBTQIA+ Student Community Central Area: Spectrum is a comfortable and inclusive community that supports the rights and needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and asexual people and their allies. The Spectrum hallway has a gender-inclusive bathroom, and students can request a gender-inclusive room (have a roommate of any gender).
  •  Wellness Student Community Orchard Hill Area: Students join this community for a variety of emotional, physical, and spiritual reasons related to broad, holistic personal definitions of “Wellness.” This is a strictly substance-free community (including alcohol, even for those who are of legal age).
  •  Kanonhsesne: Native American Student Community Central Area: Kanonhsesne, which is Mohawk for “the place where we live,” is a community that provides opportunities to pursue academic excellence, engage in developing a working knowledge of historical and contemporary Indigenous issues, and develop a sense of community for Native American/Indigenous students and their allies.

Living in a Residential First-Year Experience or a Defined Residential Community is a unique and enriching living experience here at UMass Amherst that can truly help make such a large university feel more like home. When deciding on housing, make sure you explore all your options and figure out what is the best fit for you — that might just be one of the many specialized housing options here on campus! 


Life at UMass
Residential Life

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