Housing policy changes demonstrate lack of communication with students

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GRAPHIC BY KAYLA PAYNE / THE FLAT HAT

Since returning from break, I have had at least seven separate conversations where my friends and I stress-screeched about next year’s housing options at the College of William and Mary.

The decision to place incoming freshmen in Lemon Hall next year, which currently houses upperclassmen, and to put returning students in Jefferson Hall, has elicited controversy. While upsetting to rising seniors who wanted to live in a swanky air-conditioned dorm with an elevator, this decision makes objective sense. The need for more accessible dorms is very real, and the number of students who can live in the two buildings is almost the same, leaving no one out in the cold as a result of the switch.

Less thrilling is the recent discovery that the room rates for different dorms can apparently be changed without any kind of campus-wide notification.

The price of living in each dorm went up by roughly $200 per semester between the 2017-18 academic year and the 2018-19 academic year. This change occurred after the housing lottery last year, because I remember basing part of my decision to live in Hardy Hall on the fact that it seemed like something of a steal to reside in such a nice building for under the $4,000 per semester price tag that already applied to Tribe Square. It is now less of a steal.
I am very lucky in that my family can afford that extra $200, but not every student can. Having a louder announcement of the price change rather than a quiet adjustment of numbers on a page deep in the bowels of the College’s website seems only fair.

Most exasperating is the way One Tribe Place’s removal from the housing system next year was handled.

After some searching on the College’s website and many emails back and forth between me and Residence Life director Maggie Evans, I learned that right now, there are 304 residents in One Tribe Place, and a total of 337 empty beds across campus. This includes fraternity and sorority housing and the 54 beds currently unoccupied in One Tribe Place itself.
If none of these numbers change , which is in no way guaranteed, as about 200 students leave campus per year to study abroad, graduate early, live off-campus and the like, the very recent announcement to close One Tribe Place has troubling implications.

I am an English major rather than a math major for a reason, but even I am capable of subtraction. Without the 52 empty beds in One Tribe Place, because the entire dorm is closed, there would be only 285 empty beds across all of campus for students to stay in. If the 304 students who currently live in One Tribe Place all want to stay on campus, even once they are shuffled around into all of the 285 available beds, that leaves roughly 19 people without an on-campus home next year as things currently stand.

Obviously, there are many moving parts to this situation. There may be more people studying abroad next year than right now, or more people who have already found houses off-campus. Nineteen people is a fairly small margin of error in a very complicated problem. But I argue that the anxiety could easily have been mitigated, or even avoided, if ResLife had made students aware that One Tribe Place would not be available to live in earlier than two months before the housing lottery began.

I’m sure there are a few students who were on the fence about living off-campus next year who would have appreciated having more time and more information to consider their options. Finding a home off-campus at this point is much more complicated for people who cannot afford the money for a parking pass, or the time to drive 15 minutes to campus and then spend 10 minutes before class searching for an available parking space every single day.
I appreciate everyone who works in ResLife. They are good people who spend a lot of time doing a very hard, complicated and often thankless job. I don’t begrudge the need for dorms to close or for students to switch from one building to the other. It even makes sense to raise prices to pay for recent long-lasting construction.

But this year, there was a major breakdown in communicating important information to students clearly and quickly. In the future, making housing information known as early as possible should be a high priority in order to ensure students can focus on their studies and building a welcoming community at the College, not on whether they have a place to live for the next year.

Email Maggie More at memore@email.wm.edu.