Dear administration and ResLife: Alleviate the economic challenges of housing

Wesley Jenkins | Staff Columnist

During the Lee/Beaumont Residential College housing information dinner, a student very pointedly asked why Lee/Beau was being given priority to the Village, one of the most expensive on-campus housing options, when many students choose traditional housing in the first place for the cost advantage. The Residential Life representative answered that Washington University cannot take into consideration student financials when it comes to housing.

In a socioeconomic climate where affluent is the norm and scraping by is rarely seen, many students can take a casual approach to their finances, which is perfectly acceptable. If you have the resources and the ability to use them, by all means, go ahead. However, the University’s indifference to students with greater need is unacceptable. Purposely ignoring legitimate student concerns in favor of a horribly inefficient residential college system is an egregious offense.

Last week’s announcement of Wash. U.’s decision to accept more Pell Grant-eligible students was a huge step for the University, but we are still leagues behind comparable institutions. The University expects that we will reach the current average of Pell Grant-eligible students among comparable institutions by the year 2020. So in other words, if nothing changes for the next five years, we will be average at best.

Putting aside the financial culture as a whole, Wash. U. has the ability to at least alleviate some of the socioeconomic problems, starting with housing. The residential college system is outdated. As the University increases its freshman class with each passing year, we no longer have the space to maintain a working system.

Sophomore dorms are being converted into freshman dorms, more and more sophomores are being forced off campus and Rubelmann House still stands three years later. The University continues to expand without regard for the effect such expansion will have on its students.

According to Director of Housing Operations Tim Lempfert, approximately 250 sophomores will live in either Village or Lopata House next year, which is about 15 percent of the class. Because Lee/Beau lacks a corresponding sophomore house on the South 40, its residents have been scapegoated for the move.

The cost of a single in a traditional dorm on the 40 is $10,466, whereas a single in the Village is $11,544. While both options are increases over the $9,222 of a traditional double in Lee/Beau, a $1,244 price difference is easier to swallow than $2,322.

When asked why no other options were presented to the students, the ResLife representative at the informational dinner rebuffed the question by saying that Lee/Beau residents have preference for Shanedling House. Yet Shanedling contains only 15 suites, and Dauten and Rutledge Houses also have preference for that dorm. For all practical purposes, if Lee/Beau students want to live on the 40 next year, they must play the general lottery.

The issue here is much more than just students complaining of a longer walk, and it’s more than spoiled kids griping about paying a little more money. There are countless students on this campus who do not qualify for the full aid needed for them to attend Wash. U. The ability for many Wash. U. families to cut costs whenever possible is not only common courtesy but also critically necessary for many. For ResLife and the University as a whole to disregard financials when it comes to housing is disturbing.

But the housing problem is a much simpler fix than Wash. U. will admit. First of all, eliminating the residential college system and having everyone participate in a general lottery allows all students a fair chance to live where they can afford. While this wouldn’t alleviate all the problems that housing causes, it would be a step toward fixing the debacle the housing process has become.

Secondly, creating a pre-general lottery application for students to petition the University would ensure that no one is damaged by the system. A simple essay detailing family circumstances should be proof enough of demonstrated need without reams of financial statements being required.

Would this be a perfect system? Absolutely not, but I’m just brainstorming ideas. At a university as esteemed as ours, there are certainly brighter minds that can propose a workable housing system. But is my system better than the one currently in place? That’s what this community needs to ask itself, as Wash. U. keeps expanding and housing becomes more and more strained with each passing year.