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Students face challenges in summer assignment process

Students frustrated over housing uncertainty, lack of communication

Daphne Li-Chen ’21 opened her summer assignment email in August to find she was placed in a triple in Vartan Gregorian Quad apart from her requested roommate, and only later did she discover that her assigned bedroom was formerly a communal kitchen.

The Office of Residential Life eventually gave her off-campus permission and five days to sign a lease.

Students are placed in the summer housing process if they cannot receive housing during the standard lottery, either because the rooms were filled before the end of the lottery or they failed to participate in the lottery process.

And Li-Chen’s experience was not unique — several students interviewed by The Herald expressed frustration with the summer assignment process, from their uncertain housing statuses to the difficulty of communicating with ResLife.

As part of the process, ResLife placed some students in converted kitchens and lounges while searching for other accommodations for those students, such as standard dorm rooms or off-campus permission, according to Melissa Flowers, senior director of residential education and operations for ResLife. Of the 160 students who were placed in summer assignment, 16 are still living in common spaces converted into temporary dorms.

“We typically convert 10 spaces and work throughout the first few months … to get those students into traditional residence hall rooms,” Flowers wrote in an email to The Herald. “This year, there were actually slightly fewer temporary spaces used.”

Li-Chen did not fault ResLife for her original housing placement. “They’re understaffed, they’re under a ton of stress and they’re doing their best,” she said. ResLife has struggled with understaffing in recent years following multiple staff departures, The Herald previously reported.

There are currently multiple vacancies listed on the ResLife staff website, including the role of assistant director for operations, which manages “all aspects of housing assignments and facilitated housing accommodations,” Flowers wrote. Paul Villemaire left the position on June 14 and trained four members of the ResLife staff to oversee his position this summer.

“I think they were dealing with a situation where (ResLife) didn’t have enough resources, employees or information to do this properly,” said Oscar Newman ’21, whose housing group of eight was placed into summer assignment, The Herald previously reported. “It’s kind of a systemic problem.”

Some students interviewed by The Herald found getting in contact with ResLife about summer assignment to be difficult.

“ResLife as a whole seemed to be unreachable,” said Moriah Tom ’21. “A lot of times, there was no communication at all. I wasn’t sure if they were ghosting me or if they were just busy working on the things I was asking them about. … If (ResLife) was a little more transparent about (the summer assignment process), that would have been fine.”

But when students were able to get in contact with ResLife, they found their interactions to be mostly positive.

“Whenever I called ResLife, everyone was very professional,” said Gus Kmetz ’21, whose housing placement has changed twice since he received his original summer assignment. “They were clear about what I needed to do … and quite friendly.”

Newman met with ResLife in August to discuss his group’s situation. “The employees at ResLife were incredibly helpful and accommodating,” he said. “They knew we were in a bad position and were willing to work with us to make things better.”

ResLife granted off-campus permission to some students in summer assignment after they were denied permission in the spring. “Off-campus permissions are granted on a rolling basis based on our overall occupancy numbers,” Flowers wrote. “These numbers fluctuate significantly, so it is standard for us to release a small number of juniors throughout the summer.”

Newman and his group, which shrunk to five people as group members found permanent on-campus housing, was given off-campus permission after talking with a member of ResLife. “We had to take the initiative” to communicate with ResLife and look for places to live, Newman said. “It more or less consumed our lives for a good two weeks.”

ResLife is working to improve the summer assignment process for the future. “Staff members in the office have been vetting various housing management systems to replace our outdated Odyssey HMS system that runs (the) housing lottery and off-campus housing processes,” Flowers wrote. “We have identified a top product and are working with (the) CIT and University Purchasing on a program acquisition and integration. We anticipate having this product fully integrated in time for 2020-2021 housing processes.”

ResLife is also “considering policy changes to eliminate the occupancy fluctuation connected to rising seniors” in order to place fewer people in summer assignment, Flowers wrote.


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