By Erica Quinones
After months of conversation and confusion regarding the off-campus housing policy, students began receiving exemption notices the week of April 9.
The off-campus exemption process began with confusion for many students when a Feb. 16 email from Residential Life said that WC is a four-year residential college with a four-year residency requirement.
The email further said “we do not anticipate many slots allotted for exemption approvals, if any,” and that students currently living off-campus “are expected to return to on-campus housing for Fall 2021.”
While the policy decision to move towards a four-year residential structure was mentioned in 2019, the policy’s implementation was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and off-campus housing policies on the WC website remained unchanged.
“To make sure we provide the one of the best programs we can, for me, part of doing that is being consistent and enforcement of policy,” Interim Dean of Students Greg Krikorian said. “In that letter that was sent out [on Feb. 16], it says we have a residential requirement, it’s in writing. Of course, it’s also not in writing in other places. So, I understand the confusion.”
The email’s contents resulted in a student petition and meetings between SGA representatives, Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Feyerherm, and Krikorian to discuss the policy and its implementation.
The committee met on a weekly basis with Krikorian and Dr. Feyerherm, discussing the exemptions that students required, especially with the effects of COVID-19 continuing into fall 2021, according to 2020-2021 SGA Secretary of Student Life and senior Izzy Sansanelli.
The group worked to verify criteria for off-campus housing exemptions, as well as to introduce students’ more “niche” needs to work towards a more accommodating housing process.
“Perhaps students have specific issues that you wouldn’t think of, so another section may appeal for students to list things that were important to them, if they felt they excuse them from living on campus, because we can’t foresee everyone’s situation and we want to make sure that we’re accommodating to everyone,” Sansanelli said.
Following student outcry, a similar email to the Feb. 16 one was sent from Residential Life on March 8. It still included the four-year residential college line, but now omitted the section regarding allotted exemption slots.
However, both emails said that housing exemptions would be sent by April 1, the same deadline the committee gave themselves, according to Sansanelli.
The committee did not manage to keep that deadline, necessitating an update email on April 2, this one saying that the off-campus exemption process was still underway, awaiting on-campus housing guidance from Kent County Health Department.
However, it explicitly laid out the three processes through which applications would be handled: the first considering students who would be 22 years old or older at the beginning of fall 2021, are married, have children, or are commuting from a family residence within 30 miles of campus; the second considering students who applied for special exemptions such as health, academic, or financial accommodations; and the third regarding juniors or seniors who are in good standing and have a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
While the update clarified the criteria being considered as well as the hinderances affecting the process’ timeline, the long lapse between the opening of applications and approvals posed a challenge for students.
Sansanelli said some underclassmen who served on the committee were missing housing opportunities due to the wait, and that she received feedback from students regarding the deadline. The wait posed especially challenging problems for students who currently live off-campus and were awaiting re-approval to renew their leases.
However, the lapse in time was “something that was kind of unavoidable to work out all the kinks with only one meeting per week,” according to Sansanelli.
The committee concluded its duties and disbanded shortly after the April 1 deadline, and KCHD’s occupancy determination was also announced in the April 9 CPG update, saying that WC was approved to house up to 900 students on campus.
The CPG update said that many students who requested to live off campus were already notified of their status. The remaining applicants will be notified by April 23.
After the 900-bed occupancy limit was announced by KCHD, and the SGA committee concluded, the first email’s allusion to “slots allotted for exemptions” raised the question: how many students will be given housing exemptions?
However, Krikorian said there is no limit on off-campus housing; rather, exemptions rely heavier on the criteria that students meet.
Some criteria, such as those in the aforementioned first and second processes, receive immediate approval. Students who fall in the third process may be more affected by how many rising freshmen live on campus, according to Krikorian.
“The goal is to, of course, maximize occupancy. I think at any residential college, part of what we believe is that the residential experience is really important. And so, as many of those students as we can accommodate, we will accommodate,” Krikorian said.
Currently, the only group “that’s really waiting right now with no answers” is juniors with a 3.0 GPA, according to Krikorian. But students awaiting exemption approval should know their status by the April 23 deadline.
While the off-campus housing policy has been addressed for the 2021-2022 academic year, the experience has provoked more questions around off-campus housing at WC in the future.
“[It] kind of created a little barrier, and allowed for a little gap, like a lapse in time, before moving to an all on-campus [housing] model, because it still requires only partial occupancy,” Sansanelli said.
According to Krikorian, conversations around how the future off-campus housing policy will appear need to happen.
Beyond addressing issues like residential hall upkeep, they will need to discuss the policy “collectively,” integrating student voices, and asking how they can be “fundamentally fair” in applying the policy, according to Krikorian.
Another issue that will be central to the policy will be communicating it clearly to avoid further confusion, according to Krikorian.
“We have to make sure from the moment we’re recruiting our students to when students arrive, we’re telling them what the policies and expectations are,” Krikorian said.
For future students who will be affected by the policy, Sansanelli said the best way to voice their thoughts is to bring their opinions and ideas to SGA.
“Going forward, that’s probably what I want to talk about with housing policies, that they not uproot students completely,” Sansanelli said. “I would like to encourage the representatives to…advocate for a housing situation that is favorable to them, and they feel is beneficial for the student experience at WC. And I encourage administrators to also listen to students’ desires and the student voice, because they’re a really essential component of this College.”
Featured Photo caption: Pictured above is the entrance to Kent Crossing, an apartment complex which frequently houses Washington College students living off-campus. After an announcement that WC was pursuing a four-year residential requirement for students in 2019, followed rapidly by the COVID-19 pandemic, confusion has surrounded students’ ability to live off-campus. Elm File Photo.