Editorials, Opinions

Editorial: Process for receiving off-campus permission needs reform

By
Editorial Page Board
Friday, September 13, 2019

Throughout students’ time at Brown, great emphasis is placed on the housing process — and rightfully so. Underclassmen living on campus may worry about their dorm’s location, the quality of common spaces and bathrooms and the size of their room. For upperclassmen, the debate shifts to comparing on- and off-campus housing options. Where students live can seriously impact their physical, mental or emotional well-being, as recently covered by an article in the New York Times. But concerns over off-campus student housing are unnecessarily aggravated by systemic problems — including the off-campus lottery timeline and last-minute permissions — that the University and the Office of Residential Life must address.

The disconnect in timing between the off-campus lottery process and when students sign leases poses a significant issue for students and ResLife. While seniors are guaranteed off-campus permission and can therefore sign early, many rising juniors sign leases before the results of the lottery are announced, in an attempt to secure the most desirable housing. This situation can place students in a compromising position. ResLife is clear on its website: “Students who sign a lease before receiving off-campus permission may … be stuck with both an on-campus housing fee and an off-campus lease.” While every student can access this warning, the desire for the best off-campus houses can overwhelm the risks involved — namely getting stuck with the $9,420 on-campus housing cost and an irreversibly signed off-campus lease. This system severely disadvantages all but the wealthiest of Brown students, who are the only ones able to take this large of a financial gamble.

The summer assignment process constitutes another major issue in the University’s housing system. This past summer, 160 students were placed in summer assignment: a dreaded limbo which leaves students unsure of where they will live in the fall. Despite expecting a similar number of students to be put in this position annually, ResLife does not confer more off-campus permissions during the original lottery process, according to an article by The Herald. As a result, some students not granted off-campus permission are forced to live on campus, while others who want to live in dorms are placed in temporary housing, as the case with 16 Brown students who are currently living in converted common spaces like kitchens. Some students placed in summer assignment were eventually granted off-campus permission but were given only five days to sign a lease — a near-impossible task, especially considering most students do not stay in Providence over the summer. The short time period means that students may sign leases for houses they have not seen and with landlords they have not met.

We are gratified to hear that ResLife has been working to improve its system. Melissa Flowers, the senior director of residential education and operations for ResLife, wrote in an email to The Herald that the Office has “been vetting various housing management systems” and is “considering policy changes to eliminate the occupancy fluctuation connected to rising seniors.” ResLife should fix its outdated housing system technology and rapidly implement policies to resolve the issues with the off-campus housing timeline and with the summer assignment process. We hope the Office incorporates students’ concerns into its changes, improving communication and providing more transparency surrounding the housing lotteries. After all, students are the ones on the opposite side of these policies — their perspectives, thoughts and experiences are a valuable resource that ResLife should be eager to include in their decision-making process.

The high staff turnover that ResLife has seen over the past year surely leaves members of the Office feeling overworked and inadequately supported. As this instability must also contribute to the chaotic housing process, we hope that the University will reevaluate the Office’s structure to prioritize employee welfare and long-term, consistent leadership.

Choosing where to live as a student is stressful enough. It does not need the additional dose of anxiety currently created through the fundamental issues with ResLife’s housing system.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Grace Layer ’20 and Krista Stapleford ’21, and its members, Jonathan Douglas ’20, Eduard Muñoz-Suñé ’20 and Riley Pestorius ’21. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.