An unappealing process: Continuing progress toward fair housing accommodation

The old system for securing special housing considerations was deficient in many ways, and we commend the decision to reconsider it. Nevertheless, we find that aspects of the revised system put forward by the Office of Student Life (OSL) are troubling and we urge OSL to amend it.

Applications for special housing have increased dramatically over the past years, with the number of applications in 2016-17 doubling that of 2015-16. We understand that this uptick suggested to the administration that some students applying for special housing considerations did not necessarily require it. OSL must address this real concern to equalize the housing process for all students and to increase the number of rooms available during the regular lottery season. We hope that student needs will be met by the decisions of the Housing Appeal Review Team (HART) and, to this end, we support the new system’s promotion of open dialogue with staff to address student-specific needs and concerns. Previously, students applied for special housing considerations online; OSL did not promote in-person communication in the process. Students will now meet face-to-face with the staff member whose role corresponds to the nature of the housing request and discuss the nature of their situations. We hope that this change will help HART match the needs of students more fairly and empathetically, as well as deter students with less justified rationales by adding more scrutiny to the process of applying.

The system that OSL has announced, however, is not without its flaws. First, we take issue with the new rule that a student who is granted a housing appeal by HART cannot reject the outcome of this ruling, and that their place in the general lottery is automatically forfeited. Although we understand that this revision is meant to deter applications for less legitimate housing requests, it is an overly stringent measure that denies students control over their housing decisions. An appeal process should be in place so that once students find their housing assignment, they may decide if their needs have been met and, if not, may apply to return to the general lottery.

As part of the intensification of the process, we are additionally concerned about the new assertion by OSL that “because the Williams campus is relatively small … close proximity to a campus resource as a request holds a very high bar for consideration, typically only for significant mobility issues.” While we note the ways that requests for geographical proximity could have been exploited for less urgent needs, there are legitimate reasons to want immediate proximity to a campus location. The existing language, however, essentially limits possibilities of any rationale besides physical mobility. It could be helpful for OSL to provide examples of unacceptable requests based on proximity, as well as acceptable requests and what accommodations would be provided.

Furthermore, we find the new special housing pull-in rules unfair. Previously, a student who was granted special housing could pull in up to five friends as a pick group, the same as if they were participating in the general housing lottery. Under the revised rules, each student is only guaranteed to pull in one friend, unless they submit justification for bringing more. Students applying for a housing appeal should be just as entitled to the opportunity to live with friends as someone in the general lottery. It seems punitive and unempathetic to allow a student with a housing appeal request only one pull-in, especially given that the other aspects of the new system should have slimmed the pool of students to only those with legitimate concerns. Students with special housing needs should not have to justify the need to live with friends, just as any other student on campus is not expected to. We implore OSL to raise the pull-in number to at least three students (equivalent to how many neighborhood directors are allowed to pull in), if not to the five students that students without housing appeal requests can enjoy living with and that constrains other students’ choices of pick group.

We hope that HART will continue to understand the concerns that some students bring to the housing lottery and to accommodate them in a dialogue about their needs. We commend OSL’s work to ensure that students who are granted special housing considerations are indeed those students who require them. We hope, however, that the new system can be modified to remain in the best interests of our student body – and to overreact less to possible system abuses. Ultimately, we hope that all students have the opportunity to choose comfortable and accommodating housing that also meets their social needs. Progress has been made with the creation of HART, but the group should now move the process further in this direction, so that housing decisions can be distributed both fairly to all students and with accommodation equity for those who need it.

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