Students of the College form mutual aid housing for school community

COURTESY GRAPHIC: WILLIAM AND MARY STUDENT AID

A new student-run initiative, WM Student Aid, aims to provide housing-insecure community members with places to stay over academic breaks. The organization relies on students to offer spaces for peers who need them.

According to the College of William and Mary’s housing policy, all residence halls except the Graduate Complex, Tribe Square and the Colonial Williamsburg House are closed during winter break. Students similarly cannot access dorms over the summer unless they are enrolled in a course or pay a fee to remain in the Graduate Complex. Those in need of housing due to unsafe home situations or houselessness rarely receive exceptions.

WM Student Aid supports such students by connecting them with classmates who have space in their own homes. The organization’s Instagram, @wm.studentaid, has a link to two Google forms — one for people seeking housing and one for those offering it. Students who fill the form for a place to stay are matched with someone else who has extra room.

Organizer Ezzie Seigel ’23 created WM Student Aid in response to what they saw as a lack of sufficient housing resources provided by the College. 

“There just simply are not enough supports for students who have tangible needs unmet,” Seigel said. 

Seigel believes the current housing policy is physically dangerous for students who have nowhere to go and are left to fend for themselves over breaks.

“Housing is a human right,” Seigel said. They added that if the College won’t act, “we as a community should be responsible for fulfilling that human need.”

“Housing is a human right,” Seigel said. They added that if the College won’t act, “we as a community should be responsible for fulfilling that human need.”

Seigel has had their own experiences with this issue. Last winter break, their complicated home life prevented them from returning to their hometown. Care Support Services directed Seigel to the Wesley House, where Pastor Max Blalock gave them a room to stay.

Wesley House is one of the few resources that provide students with housing. According to Care Support Services Director Rachel McDonald, her office works with a number of community organizations.  

“Care Support Services has collaborated with Residence Life, Auxiliary Services, the Campus Food Pantry at the Wesley House, Community Ministries, the Heart Fund and other offices to support students experiencing food and housing insecurity,” McDonald said.

However, these are auxiliary services, and there is no central system in place to aid housing-insecure students during breaks.

While grateful for the community at Wesley House, Segiel recognized that more options are needed. 

“Sometimes if there’s long-term issues with housing, you don’t want to necessarily have to go back to the same place over and over again,” Segiel said.

Seigel started WM Student Aid on Nov. 10, but has already seen significant engagement with the network. In a matter of four days, the Instagram account surpassed 100 followers and many students have been filling out both forms.

For Aubrey Lay ’23, offering housing was an easy decision. Lay expects to have open rooms in his home during Thanksgiving and winter breaks, and his family was eager to be a support for others. Like Seigel, Lay expressed dissatisfaction with the College’s housing policy. 

“It just feels a bit unfair that there’d be people in our community who don’t have a space to be, and that we have a safe place to be, and we’re just not offering that,” Lay said. 

Associate Vice President for Campus Living Maggie Burkhart Evans explained that the current housing policy is meant to give staff members time to rest and focus on personal wellness. Additionally, Evans says the price of rent is set to account for reduced expenses of housekeeping and utilities over breaks; allowing students to stay during this period would increase the costs either they individually or all students have to pay.

Nevertheless, Evans said the College has tried to remain receptive to students’ needs.  

“We are reviewing our policies for the longer term, as more students communicate needs for housing over the extended break,” Evans said. 

“We are reviewing our policies for the longer term, as more students communicate needs for housing over the extended break,” Evans said. 

The College recently relaxed closures during Thanksgiving and spring breaks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, exceptions were also made for international students who faced travel restrictions.

Seigel still thinks there needs to be more support for housing-insecure students, but they acknowledged that this university-wide problem cannot just be solved by Care Support Services or Residence Life. As a result, WM Student Aid has no affiliation with the College, and is meant to circumvent the institution entirely. The network’s mutual aid design simply relies on people helping one another. 

“With the charity model, there can be a lot of fear of being a burden, especially asking for something as personal as housing,” Seigel said.

By connecting students who are actively willing to help, Seigel said WM Student Aid can alleviate some of those anxieties. Additionally, the mutual aid network helps provide students with new communities of support. 

“It’s nice because it’s a wider net than maybe just relying on friends or people that you know, because that can also be a resource that can be exhausted pretty quickly,” Seigel said. 

Lay echoed praise for this approach.

“I’m proud to see that students are stepping up to fill that gap, even if we shouldn’t really have to,” Lay said.

As activism chair for the Rainbow Coalition, Lay has advocated to gain safe spaces for members of the queer community, who in particular may face housing challenges. 

“I think this is a great way to get people those kinds of resources,” Lay said.

Though McDonald encourages those experiencing housing insecurity to reach out to the Dean of Students Office and Care Support Services, she commends the student leaders who have taken initiative. 

“Our students are caring and creative, so it does not surprise me that they are getting involved in this issue,” McDonald said. “I do not think anyone should feel obligated to take this on alone.” 

 

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