Thursday marked the start of the housing lottery for the 2022-23 academic year. On Tuesday, as some rising sophomores were scheduled to select their housing, the StarRez portal no longer listed any available beds, The Herald previously reported. Students have expressed their discontent with the housing process on social media through platforms such as the Instagram account @brownummes.
To learn more about this year’s housing lottery, The Herald spoke with students and Brenda Ice, senior associate dean and senior director of the Office of Residential Life, to reflect on their experiences with the housing process.
“It's been complicated and overwhelmingly negative,” Jessica Deschenes ’24 told The Herald. Having lived in an “unsafe environment” before enrolling at Brown, Deschenes was given permission from ResLife to arrive on campus early. “Ever since then, (I) have just been fighting with them,” she continued. “When the summer rolled around, they weren't going to offer me housing and the only way for them to keep me on campus was to make me an RPL for my own class year, which was really awkward and uncomfortable.”
Suffering from PTSD, Deschenes applied for accommodations to live with trusted friends for the next academic year. ResLife “denied my accommodation, which was really upsetting, especially because I had a therapist’s note,” Deschenes said, adding that she knows “so many people who apply for fake accommodations.” As a result, she will live alone in a single room in Graduate Center next year.
When asked about the accommodations process at the University, Ice said that her office works with Student Accessibility Services to understand how ResLife can help students. She said that the “collective group” between the offices allows ResLife to come to a “process formation.”
Naphat Permpredanun ’24 described this year’s housing lottery as “confusing.” Permpredanun said that the switch from housing groups receiving a single room selection time slot to each group member receiving individual times was an unnecessarily complicated change to the housing process. “The system is a little bit concerning (because) we don't know how the lottery is distributed in general,” he said.
Permpredanun added that the online housing portal’s inefficiency has complicated the housing assignment process. When Permpredanun submitted his housing application with a group of three other students, the system said that their application had an error, which he felt made the situation more complicated and stressful.
Ice said that housing allotment times are different this year because ResLife is using a new platform as they return to a housing process more similar to the one that existed before COVID-19. During the 2020-21 academic year, students were assigned rooms rather than choosing them, Ice added.
“We would have to go back a few years pre-pandemic to determine what that last cycle was when students actually went through that general selection,” she said. This problem was exacerbated by the implementation of the new housing platform — which had not been used before — where the selection is automated rather than selected manually by students.
The new platform, in which each student in a housing group is given a separate time, allows “students (to) have more agency in their housing selection process,” since the different times let students adjust their group to their needs, Ice added.
Ice said that the department’s goal “should be to strive to create an experience that students can appreciate and thrive in.”
ResLife started working on housing selection as early as the September of the previous academic year, according to Ice. Although they might not formalize the actual process at that time, ResLife starts thinking about who and what they need to consider for the next housing assignment process, she said. They may learn about specific groups of people that need to be taken care of through feedback received either formally through surveys, or informally through open forums, one-on-one conversations with students, email messages or focus groups.
“(Answering) the ‘how we get there’ (requires) thinking about our current housing,” Ice said. Questions regarding housing construction, potential renovations and housing occupancy are brought up early in the planning process so that ResLife staff can start planning.
According to Ice, ResLife collaborates with other departments in the housing selection process. Along with SAS, ResLife works with their “capital planning and facilities team when (they) talk about the use of construction or renovation,” she said.
While ResLife works with other departments within the University, they also consider student feedback in their housing process. Ice said that since joining Brown in September 2021, she has been committed to listening to students to meet their needs. “The more we sit and listen to students, the better we are as practitioners and the better opportunities we have to enhance and even modify the student experience,” she stated.
“I don't think that (satisfying everyone) is a marker that anyone can or should be attaining or striving for,” she said, “but I do believe we have a responsibility to sit and listen to support students.”
“I want to … say that we know that there are things we do well with the selection process and things that we can stand to improve,” Ice told The Herald. “But I don't want to assume what those modifications will be without that general feedback from students. We will take the formal and the informal feedback however we capture it and begin to think about what we can and should be doing differently from a process standpoint.”
To improve the housing assignment system, Permpredanun suggested that ResLife accommodate students more. “Accommodations are one of the most important aspects of student life at Brown. If we get a better housing experience, we can get a greater (college) experience and better mental health.”
Melissa Aldana ’24 emphasized the importance of building community on campus, given that students have been away for a long time due to the pandemic. “But it's difficult to do that when our housing situation is so stressful,” Aldana said. “We could build a community if we had a more accessible and user-friendly system.”
“Be mindful (that) students aren't very well versed at reading floor plans (and) navigating portals with an unreliable platform,” Aldana added.
According to Aldana, it is important to consider where a student lives and who they live near. “(I’d also like to) urge them to be cognizant of student info and student feedback and try to incorporate that, because … it's very rare coming back to campus and getting a sense of normalcy,” she said.
Ice also mentioned that ResLife has been trying to accommodate the academic schedules of students when it comes to the housing lottery. “We know that it won't hit everyone's ideal, but we want to get as close to a period where it doesn't feel like we are competing with or further frustrating or complicating (students),” she said. She added that she looks at the University calendar to avoid the times students will be the busiest academically.
According to Aldana, issues related to the housing selection process may also directly impact newly admitted students’ college choices. “The housing situation … could be a determining factor between going to Brown or not,” Aldana stated. “Because yeah, the academics are great, but if you're not happy living here, or are very stressed out about the housing process, it's ridiculous.”
Ice predicts that while the Brook Street dorms will increase the housing inventory for the University, it will allow ResLife to take other residential buildings and floors “offline” for renovations.
“Rather than wait for new construction, it's important for us to think about what we'd be doing with our existing” residential buildings, she said.