Barnard’s "Guaranteed" Mistake: The Housing Crisis of 2012

Last Wednesday, Barnard’s Office of Residential Life made a surprising (although given the events over the past few semesters, not-so-surprising for some) announcement. The College has a serious housing shortage for the coming year, leaving over 80 students without housing, mostly made up of transfer students and continuing students who were unable to get off campus housing. In an e-mail sent to all incoming residents of Plimpton Hall, ResLife explained:

Students assigned corner rooms in Plimpton Hall
(like room 2A4) are mandated to take in a roommate

We are experiencing this shortage for a few reasons:  1) we had an increased acceptance rate among first-year students, 2) we had fewer housing cancellations over the summer than in previous years, and 3) we had an increase in housing applications from transfer and continuing students.

Like last year, study lounges in the Quad are going to remain converted into four-person rooms for incoming first-years. The college has also converted two faculty apartments in Cathedral Gardens into student housing. However, a furor has arisen over the final housing solution, turning all the corner rooms not currently occupied by seniors or RAs in Plimpton Hall into doubles.

For those unfamiliar with the layout of Plimpton, each suite is made up of five single bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The corner room is the largest of the five, and for those lucky enough to get it, it makes for a spacious single, but will be a tight fit as a double. In the past, Plimpton has been unique in that it is entirely comprised of five-person suites, ensuring any group of five in the housing lottery a complete suite of single rooms. But not anymore – ResLife stated in their e-mail that this shift will remain in effect for at least the the 2013-2014 school year as well.

Juniors and sophomores who are not RAs currently assigned corner rooms have until 8 A.M. on Monday to find a roommate. If they do not, one will be assigned to them. Students currently assigned corner rooms, as well as those who agree to move into the new double, will be charged a discounted rate of $3,000 for the semester (compared to the normal rate of $4,120). Each current corner room resident was personally given a call by Dean Hinkson, apologizing for the situation.

“It’s unfair for ResLife to being throwing this curveball 3 weeks before school starts at students who have had their housing arrangements set for 3 months.”

In short, the roommate shuffle of spring housing selection has taken on a new degree of strain and agitation. Residents, some abroad or in areas with limited cell phone or internet access, have been forced to make a split decision over the course of five days. Suitemates dispersed across the globe have to come to a consensus on a sixth suitemate, which is especially difficult when housing arrangements have already been solidified for most currently enrolled students.

Natasha Antony, rising junior and incoming resident of a Plimpton corner room, commented, “When I got the email I was shocked…This is a huge inconvenience and it’s disrespectful the way they’ve handled this by giving us such a small time to adjust. People have been excited about their living arrangements and now they’re forced go through this huge change. The housing lottery was stressful in the spring, but that doesn’t even begin to compare to the situation now.”

with all the strain of financial aid in the matter, I wouldn’t
be surprised if we had some drop-outs or deferrals, especially
from transfer students and continuing students who still
have not been able to find housing.”

Originally placed on the Guaranteed Wait List, rising sophomore Alexandra Palacios sympathized with ResLife’s situation. “I understand with a second consecutive year of over-enrollment that this has been a difficult situation for ResLife, but they’re not handling it the best way that they could have. I was initially upset about being given a single in Elliott, which I hadn’t put as one of my choices when I was placed on the Guaranteed Wait List, but now I understand that was a good situation. There are people on the guarateed waitlist who still don’t even have housing. It’s unfair for ResLife to being throwing this curveball 3 weeks before school starts at students who have had their housing arrangements set for 3 months. Students moving in early for NSOP are still not even entirely sure where they’ll be going.”

In the past, a handful of Plimpton suites are given to Columbia as part of the housing exchange. There has been no word on whether that will still be the case.

Even with all of these changes, the College is still unable to house every student who wants housing. The College is directing students to the 92nd Street Y on the East Side and the Brandon Residence for Women on West 85th Street. There is also a possibility these students will be stuck with reduced financial aid if they end up classified as commuter students (despite the fact they did not have a choice in the matter). On top of this, miscommunication and misdirection from the ResLife office to transfers and other students is not helping the matter. One student experienced with working with ResLife commented, “additionally, with all the strain of financial aid in the matter, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had some drop-outs or deferrals, especially from transfer students and continuing students who still have not been able to find housing.”

As Barnard students begin trickling back into their residence halls over the next few weeks, the ramifications of this policy will become clearer. In Plimpton, the sudden addition of a sixth person (possibly a randomly assigned one) to a group that elected to live together may not end well. More alarmingly, what will happen for all of the students forced to live off campus? The situation raises long-term questions about Barnard’s ability to continue to guarantee housing. As the second year consecutive year that the College has had a higher than expected yield in the freshman class, the housing crunch will most likely continue to be an issue as the class of 2016 leaves the Quad next fall. ResLife’s long-term solution to the problem remains to be seen.

Floor plan courtesy of ResLife.

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5 thoughts on “Barnard’s "Guaranteed" Mistake: The Housing Crisis of 2012

  1. My heart goes out to the students who are being placed across town at the Y, but Plimpton students should stop complaining. It's not an ideal situation, but there are many universities and colleges that don't guarantee four years of housing. Most of us lived with a “rando” freshman year.

  2. I don't think it's the actual situation so much as the timing of the e-mail and the general disregard for students' needs – not everyone is compatible living with another person, may not be able to sleep with another person in the room, etc. – that exists in more than just Res Life at this school.

  3. Part of the college experience is living in a dorm with other people. In all aspects of life we're going to encounter people we may not be totally compatible with, but we manage to get through it. You're right – Res Life should have figured this out much earlier in the summer. If someone can't possibly live with another person in the room, perhaps they should commute from home, get off-campus housing, or transfer somewhere closer to home.

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