Students affected by Barnard’s housing shortage railed against the college’s administration at Monday night’s Student Government Association meeting.
Members of SGA’s Housing Advisory Board advertised the meeting as a chance for students to express their concerns about the way Barnard’s administration handled the housing shortage that developed over the last year. Administrators were ultimately able to offer on-campus housing to most students, but only after encouraging some students to seek off-campus housing, retroactively changing contracts that had guaranteed housing to students taking leaves of absence, and converting 31 coveted single rooms in Plimpton Hall into cramped doubles.
Hannah Goldstein, BC ’13, returned from a leave of absence this semester. Administrators revoked her housing guarantee while she was away, a move that forced her to live off-campus.
Noting that some students whose housing guarantees were revoked had been taking medical leaves of absence, Goldstein said that students might now be wary of leaving school for health reasons.
“We all know that Barnard is a place committed to women’s health. There shouldn’t be shame in taking medical leave, and now there is,” Goldstein told SGA. “We will lose our housing for taking time off. That’s ridiculous, and it should definitely be brought up” with administrators, she said.
Two transfer students who were forced to live off-campus said that as commuter students and transfer students, they feel removed from the Barnard community—and community is exactly what they were looking for when they decided to leave their previous schools.
Housing Advisory Board member Winn Periyasamy, BC ’13, told the two students—who asked not to be named because they feared further problems with the administration—that she is working with resident advisers and Skip Stop, a social organization for commuter students, to “create more of a sense of community” for commuters.
“As a transfer student myself, I totally resonate with not knowing anybody … Making the move to leave a university and come somewhere else is a big thing,” Periyasamy said. “I’m making it a priority to make it a better environment for you guys.”
Ayelet Pearl, BC ’14 and a member of SGA, had her Plimpton single unexpectedly turned into a double. Pearl, a Spectator deputy photo editor, said she wants administrators to personally apologize to each student affected by the housing crisis.
“The total disrespect was beyond angering and disappointing. There’s so many issues, and all I’m hearing upon coming to campus is, ‘Let’s move forward’ … There was no apology,” Pearl said. “There was no admission of responsibility from the administration at any point.”
Housing board members said they planned to bring students’ concerns to the attention of administrators, and SGA President JungHee Hyun, BC ’13, said she wants to “productively move forward from this.”
“We can’t change what happened, but we can address what’s happening now,” Hyun said.
Housing board co-chair Jennifer Fearon, BC ’13 and a member of Spectator’s editorial board, said she would suggest that administrators start making housing assignments for students on the non-guaranteed waitlist in June, rather than in August.
“Moving that timeline forward makes it so that you guys have more faith in the process,” Fearon said.
SGA members expressed frustration with the administration as well. SGA member Rachel Ferrari, BC ’13, said it’s frustrating that “we don’t really know what the truth is, because we’re hearing from a lot of different parties with a lot of different interests,” and Class of 2014 President Aliza Hassine said that the administration’s response to the housing shortage did “not feel transparent at all.”
“Communication on this campus with the administration has been at an all-time low,” Hassine said.
Goldstein, though, said that calling the administration’s response to the housing shortage a failure of communication would be an understatement. She suggested that SGA form a committee on administrative accountability.
“No one has the money or energy to sue Barnard for these things … Put the administration in contempt of SGA,” Goldstein said.
SGA is planning to hold a town hall for students to talk to administrators about the problems caused by the housing shortage, but Periyasamy called Monday night’s meeting a good first step.
“It was great hearing from real students, not just in online comment sections, but also in person. It means that we are showing ourselves as resources,” Periyasamy said. “It’s opening the door that this is not going to be the last conversation we are going to have about this.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Hannah Goldstein took a medical leave of absence, and that she successfully fought for on-campus housing. Spectator regrets the errors.