As students prepared to return to on-campus housing this fall semester, information began to circle of a new $40 fee to receive a temporary key if a student is locked out of their room in their residence hall. The fee will be charged to the resident’s student account each time they are issued a temporary key.
The fee comes in the wake of an increased number of lockouts on campus. According to the Director of Housing and Residence Life Harriet Kandell, the 2021-2022 academic year saw a total of 2,268 lockouts.
“The number of lockouts has increased by 5%-10% each year for the past 3 years. Our staff has had challenges keeping up with this increase, so we considered practices in place at other institutions designed to reduce lockouts,” Kandell wrote in an email statement to The Flat Hat.
News of the fee came as a shock to many students as there had previously been no fees associated with receiving a temporary key in the event of a lockout. Prior to the new policy, there was only a $55 fee to completely replace the lock on a resident’s door in the event of the key not being found.
Students first began hearing of the new policy when resident assistants arrived on campus in mid-August for training. Ryan Ferrick ’24 explained that he discovered the fee in the RA manual and shared its contents.
“No individual room key should ever be removed from the key box without being properly documented via StarRez,” the manual reads. “Each lockout will be a $35.00 fee assessed to the student accounts per lockout.”
Kandell clarified that the price, which is listed as $35 in the manual, was a typographical error.
Ferrick’s first reaction to the lockout fee was confusion since he assumed it was talking about the lock change fee. After realizing that the lockout fee was meant as a charge for temporary keys, he, like many other RAs, was upset about the decision and protested it during the next meeting with Residence Life.
“There were a lot of questions immediately and a lot of people really upset with the decision,” Ferrick said. “I don’t think it’s a necessary change and I definitely don’t think it’s a $40 necessary change because even $35 we thought was incredibly steep.”
Kandell wrote that the fee was decided based on the administrative time and the cost is for a replacement key or overdue temporary key. The increased volume of temporary key requests inspired the decision to implement the fee.
“The fee was based on the administrative time and what we charge for if a key is lost or not returned by the stated deadline,” Kandell wrote in an email. “At the end of the spring semester, Residence Life replaced over 500 room keys. Key management is taken very seriously for safety and security purposes for students. All fees are assessed annually to consider costs, inflation, etc.”
According to Ferrick, the process for checking out a temporary key for a resident is the same as last semester, just with the additional $40 fee now attached to it.
“It doesn’t even happen with us. We don’t do anything with it. We fill out the form that we checked them out a key like normal, and it’s discharged outside of us,” Ferrick said.
As the information reached the wider student body, outrage spread at the new cost associated with being locked out, even temporarily. RAs are warning residents to not get locked out and a petition created by Joey Upadhyay ’23 has accrued nearly 1000 signatures.
Upadhyay explained that during the spring 2022 semester, he created a system to remember to take his key with him, but was still locked out over three times. These lockouts would have cost him over $120 if the fee had been in place during the prior semester. The petition points out multiple ways the fee is a disadvantage to different student groups, one of which being people with conditions that affect their memory.
“As soon as I saw it, I was immediately thinking of ways that it will harm not only myself, but other people with ADHD, other people with depression who are prone to forgetting stuff. And there’s so many things wrong with it, and I felt like nobody else was talking about it, so I decided to go ahead and make a petition,” Upadhyay said.
The petition also points to the fee adversely affecting low-income students, promoting unsafe behavior such as leaving doors unlocked, and its unjustness for charging students for a previously free service.
“Even a less outrageous fee, such as $5 while still unjust, would be preferable. People should not have to pay to access a room that is already theirs. This is an inherently unfair policy that must be addressed as soon as possible,” Upadhyay wrote in the petition.
Hannah Dow ’23 is the advocacy chair for First Generation Low Income, a group that represents first-generation low-income students. She identifies as both a first-generation and low-income student and shared her thoughts on how the fee can affect other students like her.
“When I heard $40, the first thing that came to my mind — and which is why I know it was the first thing that came to a lot of other people’s mind — $40 can feed you hot meals for two or three days if you use leftovers. $40 is over 5 hours of work in Virginia with minimum wage at $7.25 an hour. $40 is a bigger deal than I think a lot of people on this campus might perceive it to be,” Dow said.
Dow remarked that she had already seen the pressure the fee causes students. When she worked as an Orientation Aide, one of her students locked themselves out of their room twice.
“I cannot tell you how stressed he was. He had just got here, and it was so tough to watch him struggling and know that I could not do anything to help make that part of his transition experience less stressful. I was his orientation aide, and I was there to support him, but there was nothing that I could do to ease the pressure that this recurring $40 bill incurred on his experience,” Dow said.
Alongside a heavy financial burden, Dow also expressed the unique social and mental pressure that the fee places on first generation and low-income students as well. A student not being able to pay the fee could raise questions from friends and administration that alienates the student and adds a mental burden to not incur the fee.
“The added pressure to the already intimidating college experience and disproportionately affects students socially because they then feel undue pressure to advocate for themselves or the administration, as well as explain themselves to friends who don’t understand their circumstances,” Dow said.
Due to the financial pressure the fee adds, students can try to avoid the fee by leaving their doors unlocked, especially if they are in singles without roommates or suitemates to let them in. Ferrick recalled that this was something that RAs during training were concerned about.
“One of the important questions that people were really concerned about, a lot of the RAs, was: aren’t students just going to leave their room unlocked if they lose their key now?” Ferrick said. “And StarRez’s response to that is that it won’t happen. Which I find extremely hard to believe because I know people who’ve done that.”
Ferrick shared that ResLife representatives at the meeting were adamant that this was a necessary change and dismissed questions like the one about residents keeping their door unlocked.
“They were in a room with hundreds of upset, discontent people. And they seemed still pretty headstrong on the fact that they think this is a necessary change,” Ferrick said. “I felt like a lot of the training was dedicated towards, not damage control, but giving excuses as to why this is necessary thing.”
Kandell responded to student outcry in her written statement to The Flat Hat.
“We understand the frustrations and are open to feedback. However, the fee will remain in place as the administrative time devoted to managing lockouts is significant and increasing with each passing year. We expect residents to always carry their keys when they are away from their room, even for a short period of time. It is a matter of safety,” Kandell wrote.
On-campus residents and ResLife will continue to navigate the lockout fee topic for the foreseeable future despite outcry.