ResLife must create space for students to air grievances

Just before the semester began, Juniors returning from study abroad received an unpleasant surprise from the Office of Residential Life. On Jan. 13, Residential Life sent an email explaining that although in the past returning juniors could expect to be assigned to a single, this year things would be different. The email went on to explain that due to a large disparity between the number of students leaving campus in the fall compared to in the spring that superseded previous years’ amounts, Residential Life has had to deal with an allegedly unexpected influx of students returning to campus now. Most juniors, while understanding of the difficult nature of the situation, were inconvenienced by the lack of advance notice of the housing disparity and were thus frustrated with the news.

Though this gap between available singles and returning students might be the largest in recent years, the timing of the email informing returning students was much later this semester. Last year, students who returned in the spring were informed of the lack of open singles in November; this year, students found out on Jan. 13, giving them far shorter notice. Because of this delay, students did not have the chance to seek off-campus housing or alternatives to dorm living. Additionally, this lack of advanced notification limited students’ agency in going through higher channels to find an amenable living situation for the semester; instead, these juniors must weigh the options of applying for a single and, upon rejection, living with underclassmen or applying to live with friends and giving up any chance of getting a single.

Placing some of the returning juniors with underclassmen creates the potential for an unpleasant housing experience for everyone involved. Juniors have a different general experience level and a different view of Vassar than younger students, which could impact their adjustment to life here. Additionally, it’s unlikely that a disgruntled junior will be able to create a positive living space for an underclassman with whom they aren’t acquainted and did not choose to live. Power dynamics are thus a potential issue: It may be difficult or uncomfortable for a younger student to approach their older roommate about general living concerns, and difficult for House Team members as well, most of whom are sophomores, to mediate between freshmen and juniors.

The fact that the Office of Residential Life has sent a similar message to returning juniors in the past, albeit on a different schedule, seems to suggest that this housing challenge resurfaces year after year. While it is true that this year’s numbers look different than those from the past, it’s clear that this problem is not new for the office of Residential Life.

Furthermore, while students recognize the many challenges associated with placing the enormous number of returning students, there is no system in place for students to express their concerns about housing. The official email sent by ResLife reads, “We cannot provide an opportunity for students to provide their reasons for wanting/needing to avoid a double or triple without making things administratively unmanageable.” Students need a space to air their concerns about housing. Without such a space, the College is once again demonstrating that it isn’t committed to open communication with its students. Considering the already tumultuous atmosphere of the College following the many campus climate-related events of last semester, this move is another force weakening the students’ faith in the Administration.

One note of contention among students also centers around the tone of some of the emails sent out to returning students. Though the initial email acknowledged that the current housing situation was not what most students expected or wanted, following emails seemed to be far less understanding. Even in the emails that expressed how “very sorry” Residential Life was about the fact that juniors would have to move into housing they had been told they would not be placed in, a sense of dialogue was absent. What many students wanted to see was not simply regret or remorse but an actual acknowledgement that the office of Residential Life made mistakes.

We would like to acknowledge that ResLife is putting a lot of work into managing this difficulty, but we feel that the Office should have acknowledged that they made a mistake and been more prompt and clear in expressing how they plan on resolving the situation in a way that is fair to students. While this dearth of housing impacted a large number of students, it is only one issue in a greater series of problems that the Office of Residential Life did not address in an open manner this year. For example, residents in Strong House experienced an exorbitant number of fire alarms last semester due to problems with the heating system. Though this issue was eventually resolved, the Office did not provide an open space for students to express their concerns and instead communicated via a few emails to the students toward the end of the semester, once again failing to open a space for dialogues for the students.

We at The Miscellany News believe that the Office of Residential Life should take responsibility for their actions. Currently, there is no open system for dialogue between students and ResLife; there is no official or organized way for students to express their complaints or concerns. Rather than students simply sending emails—often in too high a volume to be answered quickly—we believe that ResLife should initiate a grievance system on their end and create an open forum of communication between the Office and students about housing. In this specific case, we also believe students who were placed into double or triples despite being previously told not to expect such placement should receive some sort of compensation for this error on the part of Residential Life. This action would further the accountability we feel the Office should hold to the greater student body.

 

—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.

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