The Office of Residential Life announced a new initiative to hold spaces for students studying abroad as a part of housing reforms to be enacted in Spring 2015 in an email sent to students on March 17.
While students planning to study abroad in the fall of 2015 will remain ineligible to enter the housing lottery for their return in the spring semester, groups will now be able to hold spots for students who are abroad by living with vacancies. Residents will enter a lottery system for the opportunity to obtain a “blank code” to write into their group housing application to hold space for the abroad students. Before the semester change, the student who is abroad and their roommates will have to mutually request the vacancy fill.
Groups may request up to two vacancies per apartment or townhouse, although there will be a cap, which has not yet been determined, on the number of vacancies permitted campus-wide.
“[The vacancies] allow students to live where they want, with who they want after coming back, which was really the original intention,” said incoming GUSA Director of Communications Will Simons (COL ’16). He added that requesting a vacancy would not affect a group’s housing points.
The changes to the housing policies were the result of collaboration between the Office of Residential Life and representatives from the informal group Students Against Restrictive Housing Policy, consisting of Simons, incoming GUSA Co-Deputy Chief of Staff Ken Nunnenkamp (MSB ’16), and GUSA Senator of the Finance and Appropriations Committee Declan Kelly (COL ’17). The student group formed in response to a previous change in the housing selection process made in Jan. 2014, wherein students studying abroad in the fall would not be able to enter the housing lottery. Their Facebook campaign amassed over 800 signups, which Kelly called “an immense point of leverage” in the group meetings.
The student leaders believed the original change in policy, effectively expiring a student’s eligibility before going abroad, would mean that students choosing to study abroad would be saddled with undesirable housing upon their return. They anticipated it would be more difficult for abroad students to secure a spot with their chosen living group. After talks with Patrick Killilee, Executive Director for Residential Services, in the 2013-2014 academic year, the group was able to postpone this change until 2015. More recent talks led to the new initiatives.
In past years, students choosing to study abroad would enter the housing lottery with their group, then drop the housing for the entire year after being accepted to study abroad. This meant they were not guaranteed housing upon their return. The remaining members of the group would be notified that they had one week to fill the vacancy, which was usually done by pulling in another rising junior or a rising sophomore. That student would typically have an informal agreement with the group that they would request a room change at the end of the fall, leaving a vacancy open for the abroad student.
With increasing numbers of students studying abroad, this system was beginning to place a large burden on Residential Services, as all swaps had to be processed manually. Simons noted that the informal practice of pulling in “holds” is still possible, but it now requires students to be more proactive and bring placeholder roommates into the housing lottery.
“What students need to know… is that Patrick Killilee is not the enemy. [He] saw a failing system and he made a change,” Kelly said. “Initially, students reacted very negatively to that. … When we told him we thought it was wrong he completely turned around.”
The students said the working group with the Residential Services would continue into next year and beyond, bringing in students who are interested as well as members of the office to collaborate on further design changes for future classes. “We truly want a long term solution to our housing policy,” Kelly said. “We’re willing to work however long it takes to get there.”