As the end of the semester approaches, international students without a place to stay over winter break are now exploring their housing options with help and more success. In light of the Dean’s office’s inability to guarantee on-campus housing or off-campus placement for internationals unable to return home, international club member Douglas Onyango ’11 has been collaborating with Wendy Raymond, the associate dean for institutional diversity and professor of biology, to help those students who still needed accommodations. Aided by College Council (CC) and the International Club, every international student will now be assured a place to stay this break.
According to Onyango, he e-mailed international students at the end of November to discover who was still scrambling to find housing. Following the e-mail, Onyango received ten responses. Five of the respondents were first-years, three were sophomores, and two were juniors. Of those ten, five were subsequently able to find housing on their own, while the remaining looked to Onyango’s efforts for assistance.
Raymond referred to her and Onyango’s work as an “ad hoc, voluntary process” that required the cooperation of other students, faculty, staff and Williamstown residents. James Mathenge ’12, co-president of the International Club, said that the response was extremely positive. “The Williams community has been really helpful,” Mathenge said.
Two of the five students were pointed to Raymond, who offered her home to house international students; one of those students is currently pursuing this option. Queer Life Coordinator Justin Adkins collaborated with Onyango and Raymond and offered to house the remaining three.
Onyango explained that his initiative was born of feelings that the administration did not provide sufficient support for international students seeking winter break housing, as also reported in the Record (“Internationals face anxieties over winter break housing,” Oct. 28). “It’s only fair that [international students] get some kind of helping hand,” Onyango said. “For me, the idea is that if I show that a student can do this, then a dean can do it because I’m balancing academics and it’s not particularly my job to do this.”
Onyango added that although he has been updating Raymond regularly with the housing needs of the students who e-mailed him, he has not been in touch with Gina Coleman, dean of international students, or other members of the Dean’s office. He said that there has at points existed friction between the Dean’s office and international students. “The reactions are varied,” he said of the students’ thoughts on the matter. “Some people get help from the Dean, some do not.”
Mathenge, however, said that the International Club recently discovered it had been misunderstanding Coleman’s role, which is dedicated primarily to assisting first-year international students and less to the concerns of upperclassmen international students in general. According to Mathenge, there is no dean for these matters, and this is a resource the club would like to pursue through the administration.
Raymond, however, spoke more to a relationship between the ad hoc efforts and the Dean’s office. “I think I work well in collaboration with Dean Coleman and many others in improving experiences for international students at Williams,” she said.
Additionally, Raymond added that she believes the College and community’s course of action was successful. “It’s wonderful that members of the community were able to volunteer to host a handful of international students this year,” she said. “So I think the current combination of official and ad hoc processes worked well.”
Of the International Club’s role in securing students winter break housing, Onyango said he believes the responsibility should lie elsewhere. “I don’t think coordinating housing, which is a basic need, should [be the duty of] a social club,” he said.
Onyango did also approach CC for ways to offer international students housing. CC primarily conducted research for the club, working with Steve Klass, vice president for operations, and Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for Public Affairs, to review options provided by the College. CC also offered to help by contacting alumni, looking into whether housing provided by A Better Chance (ABC) could offer students a place to stay and inquiring as to whether Hoxsey Street student residents would be willing to open up their houses.
According to Onyango, the Hoxsey street option did not work out because those residents wanted international students to raise $1500 to stay there, a cost which proved too high to be feasible. Onyango also noted that the ABC organization declined to open up their house to internationals for trust-related reasons.
Even though none of those options panned out, this fall-through turned out to be a non-issue as the international students in question found other viable options.
Onyango thinks that international student winter break housing will continue to pose a challenge. In terms of his hopes for the future, Onyango said “Plan A would be to have a building open [on campus], plan B would be for the Dean’s Office to be more involved and at bare minimum to have an information session.” Onyango elaborated that the information session would explain to international students the reasons why they cannot stay on campus and offer a range of other options.
Indeed, Onyango hopes that the ad hoc committee’s work will turn into a longer-term project and added that Raymond’s assistance has provided institutional memory for the period after he graduates.
Raymond agreed that the project requires further development. “The ad hoc process we used this year will need student and administrative leadership to continue,” Raymond said.
Additional reporting by Kaitlin Butler, executive editor.