Barnard housing policy prioritizes finances over students

A few weeks ago, I was attending one of the Vassar Student Association meetings when I came across an interesting piece of information. VSA President Ramy Abbady ’16 was giving an update on the latest Seven Sis­ters Conference, a yearly assemblage of the student executives from Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Wellesley College and Vassar College (Radcliffe College had merged with Harvard in 1999). Among the topics discussed at this con­ference, one of the most controversial centered on Barnard’s winter housing crisis.

To provide context, the relationship be­tween students and administration at Barnard has been more than sour for several years, es­pecially regarding winter housing.

Per usual, many Barnard students return home for winter break to celebrate the holidays with their families while international students and others in complicated housing situations reside on campus either due to travel distance or financial reasons.

The haggling process to demonstrate need is unreasonably difficult, and staying for the break’s duration costs $400. In the past, the school’s policies mandated that students stay­ing on campus could still stay in their own dorms, since most of the dorms would’ve re­mained open throughout the winter (Columbia Spectator, “Want to stay in Barnard housing over break? Get out your wallet,” 12.10.12).

Well, not anymore. In an effort to save mon­ey, the Barnard administration has implement­ed a series of changes to the winter housing system that have made an already difficult pro­cess even more frustrating.

In an email to the student body earlier in the spring, Barnard Dean of the College Avis Hinkson announced that all but one of the dorms would effectively be shut down over winter break since “it makes sense, for safety and well-being, to have the small population of students who are on campus during that time reside in one location,” (Columbia Spec­tator, “Barnard Housing changes: less winter break housing and sliding cancellation fees,” 03.05.14).

While seeming sensible at first, this decision was incredibly one–sided. In the email, Hink­son causally mentioned that students who do not live in that one dorm, Plimpton Hall, must “secure permission to use the room of a Plimp­ton resident.”

This means that even after successfully demonstrating need to the administration, stu­dents from the 11 other residence halls must go through a more difficult process of competing for a room in order to actually stay on campus.

“If you don’t have a friend in Plimpton, you’re basically screwed,” states one Barnard junior (Columbia Spectator, “Barnard an­nounces changes to winter break housing pol­icy,” 03.06.14).

At first, I must admit, I didn’t see the gravity of the situation. Surely, there can’t be that many people staying over winter break, I thought to myself. The Dean herself said that there were only a “small population of students” staying over break, after all.

Well, that can’t possibly be true, because the administration further cut down on the num­ber of students eligible to stay to make up for the lack of rooms in Plimpton. At the start of the fall semester, the Barnard administration announced its decision to deny winter–break housing to everyone except students who pos­sess “mission critical” roles (Columbia Specta­tor, “Barnard students express frustration over further restrictions to winter break housing policy,” 09.20.15).

“Mission critical,” in this case, translates to varsity athletes competing for the school and students who will give admissions tour guides during winter break. Bravo, Barnard, bravo.

According to the college profile, approx­imately 10 percent of the student body, in­cluding 15 percent of the class of 2019, are considered international students (Peterson’s, “Barnard College (International Students)”). That’s about 250 students that Barnard College decided to completely ignore, not to mention the students who are living on welfare, stu­dents who have been kicked out of their family for issues of sexuality and gender identity, stu­dents who come from abusive households and students who are literally homeless.

Naturally, the entire student body at Barnard was outraged at these coldhearted changes and demanded that the administration reverse them. The administration’s response? “Stu­dents could certainly look into house-sitting…I also know of another student who was a nanny over the holiday last year,” stated Dean Hink­son.

During the Seven Sisters Conference, all the other student executives expressed their sup­port for the Barnard students in their endeavor. Additionally, the VSA agreed to form a coali­tion with the Barnard student government to provide as much help as possible, from assist­ing with policy recommendations to reaching out to Vassar alumni to host students.

Just two weeks after news of this issue spread at the conference, Barnard reinstated winter break housing for students with demon­strable “financial or personal” need and invited low-income students to stay on campus free of charge. It seems to me that the administration finally listened when it realized that its pre­cious image was in danger of tarnish.

While people may view this outcome as a sit­uation where justice was served, I see it more as a worrisome indication that colleges are be­coming more and more profit–oriented rather than focused on their students. It’s no surprise to me that college is a huge, lucrative venture equivalent to multi–billion corporations.

Just look at the rising tuition costs. But what happened at Barnard wasn’t just carelessness, it was absolute blindness. The administration clearly wasn’t thinking about the students’ “safety and well-being” when it decided to close all but one dorm over winter break.

It was so incredibly obvious that the college was looking for ways to easily save money at the expense of the people it was supposed to aid. All that talk about student safety was just a shameless excuse to justify its money–driven decisions. All this wouldn’t bother me so much if it wasn’t so blatantly obvious.

I don’t consider myself a naive person. Col­leges need to make money, and this obsession with increasing profits is a predictable result of a capitalist system. And honestly, that’s the harsh reality.

But really, Barnard, did you actually think you could get away with admitting more in­ternational students into your college, who must pay more money because they’re ineligi­ble for U.S. government aid, just to leave them homeless over the freezing winter? That’s not a problem with greed, that’s a problem with gross overconfidence. That’s the same level of manipulation you would see out of “The Jun­gle,” for heaven’s sake.

“I feel like the administration isn’t exactly in touch with the needs of the students…Honestly, knowing Barnard, I’m really not surprised that they would do something like this,” stated one Barnard junior.

In that case, for this Thanksgiving season, I’m very thankful to be at Vassar. At this point, I think it is essential for students to make it clear to college administrations that we’re not just brainless idiots who they can scam effortlessly.

We can, and we will, fight. Maybe then we won’t see such disgusting overconfidence from colleges in the future.

Note: If you readers are interested, search #homelessness and #WhatHasChanged on the Columbia Class Confessions website (to clari­fy, Barnard and Columbia are closely intercon­nected) to hear some of the Barnard students’ voices.

2 Comments

  1. To clarify, Columbia has always allowed its students to stay over winter break, and Barnard generally has not. Barnard is currently in the middle of a massive new building construction. Due to student pressure, Barnard has reversed their policy and will now allow all students to stay over winter break.

  2. @Rick “Due to student pressure, Barnard has reversed their policy and will now allow all students to stay over winter break” Lol nothing could be farther from the truth. Just check out the updates on the still-open change.org petition

    Source: current Barnard student

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