Almost every time a Barnard student asks me where I’m living this year, they are surprised and confused that I do not reside in campus housing. I could provide the whole story: distraught emails to housing, begging for space in a dorm—any dorm—and their stilted “apologies for the inconvenience.” I could bring up frantic Facebook messages to other transfers the last week in August for roommates or advice, and the burden of overpaying just for an apartment that is clean, safe, and close to campus. I could, but I don’t. Instead, I highlight the more appealing freedoms of apartment living, which are mainly unlimited candles, no floor meetings, and not signing in guests.
At a school where over 90 percent of students live on campus, I reside in the 10 percent. Barnard guarantees housing to all incoming first-year students for four years, but never guarantees the same to transfer students. We are given last priority. Upon acceptance to Barnard, transfers are informed that our likelihood of receiving housing depends on two factors: our distance from campus and how quickly we submit our deposit. After failing to find community at my first school, I knew that I needed campus housing in order to make Barnard feel like home. I submitted my deposit mere hours after receiving my acceptance, crossed my fingers, and waited.
As a rising senior, I am still waiting. While other Barnard seniors get to enjoy a new advanced lottery for singles and doubles in Sulz Tower, Elliott, and Hewitt, I am barred from the lottery system altogether. This situation feels like whiplash when I consider my campus tours and new student orientation, where Barnard admissions representatives highlighted that some of the college’s most successful alumni were transfers, including Lauren Graham and Joan Rivers. Hearing those names, I felt like transfer students had a place in this community. That same transfer status that made me feel valued during the admissions process now marks me unfit for the most basic of college experiences.
On a fundamental level, I do not feel comfortable or welcome in campus dorms. When I visit friends in their suites, I can’t help but remember that this is a space intentionally made unavailable to me because of housing policies. I see students from Manhattan walking into their dorms, and my mind flashes back to emails about “the proximity of [my] permanent address to campus.” Realistically, not having on-campus housing affects so much more than just where I go to sleep. I tend to avoid late night get-togethers or parties, especially in winter weather, simply because I will have to walk back to my apartment. Barnard shuttle buses only stop at residence halls, so I am truly on my own.
Logistically, paying twice what other students pay in rent—in addition to utilities—is no longer feasible for me. In fact, for many students less privileged than myself, it is never feasible. If making the financial sacrifice is not possible, Barnard is not an option for them. Transfer students on financial aid who do not receive housing also face a significant cut to their financial aid reward—up to $12,500.
According to ResLife, I live close enough to commute, so should I? It would take me an hour and a half each way, not counting inevitable delays. Logistically, I would have to cram my classes into two or three days. And what about extracurriculars, which have made my Barnard experience what it is? My sorority holds chapter meetings on Sundays. Barnard’s programming board requires executive board members to complete small tasks on campus almost every day and meet multiple nights per week. How can I advocate for myself as a reliable student leader if my physical presence on campus is so limited?
I reached out to ResLife about a week ago, in a last-ditch effort to live with friends next year. The reply was, as expected, unhelpful and underwhelming. I will not be able to participate in room selection, but I can join the waitlist, and risk finding out a week before classes start that I have nowhere to live. I love Barnard with most of my heart, but my experience with housing will leave a permanent stain on my time here.
Barnard ResLife should change its housing policies, and allow transfer students to participate in the housing lottery. If all incoming first-year students are guaranteed four years of housing, transfers should be guaranteed three.
Dorms are at the heart of Barnard student life, and I will continue to be undeniably excluded. I will never meet my best friend in the communal bathroom by asking her to borrow toothpaste, or stay up until 3 a.m. with my suitemates, laughing in between bites of burnt slice-and-bake cookies. I can go to all of my classes, eat in the dining halls, and participate in extracurriculars, but to an extent, I will always be an outsider in this community.
The author is a Barnard junior majoring in English and minoring in psychology and art history. She transferred in the fall of 2017, and has never received housing. If you have room on the couch in your suite, let her know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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