When Leila Purnell decided to renew her lease at Nicholson Gateway for this upcoming school year, it was mostly out of convenience — on-campus housing allows students to cover costs upfront with student loans, rather than monthly payments. Purnell, a fashion merchandising junior, is now one of many upperclassmen facing housing relocation to accommodate the University’s record-breaking freshman class.
An email Wednesday informed students that LSU Residential Life is preparing to convert upperclassmen on-campus apartment buildings into a first-year community. West Campus Apartment Residents will be assigned to East Campus Apartments or Nicholson Gateway, and if more room is needed, ECA and Nicholson Gateway residents will be reassigned to “an off-campus resident partner property,” where varying rental rates may apply.
“We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but we want to ensure that our first-year students, who are new to LSU and are living on their own for the first time, have an on-campus room,” the Res Life email read.
Purnell feels the University is being unfair to upperclassmen who chose housing assignments back in January and February.
"Of course, there was no way to predict the coronavirus, but I think LSU could do a better job of only accepting an amount of incoming students that they can provide housing for without forcing other students to relocate,” Purnell said.
The University boasts an incoming class of over 7,000 students. In comparison, only 6,126 students were enrolled for the 2019 school year.
Assistant Vice President for Residential Life Steve Waller said the relocations have more to do with the overwhelming freshman population than COVID-19. Only 75 beds out of a total 7,000 are not in use for social distancing.
“We were expecting some melt to happen with some of the applications of the first-year students and that melt did not materialize,” Waller said. “It’s put us in a position of having to augment our housing inventory to be able to accommodate all those who want to live on campus that have an assignment at this point and all of our freshmen.”
The deadline for students to cancel their housing contract without additional fees was July 10. It was extended once, from July 1, and Waller said it would not be extended again.
Business and theatre sophomore Deja Gordon said she would have liked to cancel her housing contract, but it is too close to the beginning of school and she has already moved into her Nicholson Gateway apartment. As an out-of-state student without a car, she chose on-campus housing for proximity to classes.
She originally signed up to live in WCA before updating her preferences.
“I could have been one of those students practically being kicked out and now have to find housing four to five weeks before classes are supposed to start,” Gordon said.
Waller said WCA was chosen first because its size would “better fit the needs” of the incoming freshman class and there were already vacancies in ECA. Nicholson is currently filled to capacity.
Gordon gives campus tours, where she sings the University’s praises to parents and prospective students — something she’s enjoyed since she fell in love with LSU freshman year. Now, she feels as though she is promoting a false narrative.
“Res Life loves to preach that there is enough housing for everyone but clearly that is not true, and not being willing to lift the housing expectation for freshman during a pandemic makes it look like LSU is very money hungry,” Gordon said.
University freshmen have been required to live on-campus since fall 2018, and resorted to overflow housing at the beginning of fall 2019. Roughly 40 members of the then-largest freshman class in LSU history were assigned to Edmund Kirby Smith Hall, a building formerly slated for demolition. Additionally, McVoy Hall was reopened for the first time in three years.
Hergert, Miller and McVoy were originally going to be demolished in summer 2019 and replaced by two new residence halls. While construction on two new residence halls will still be completed in August 2021, the older dorms will remain standing to meet the demands of increasing freshman class size. Kirby Hall will also be in full use for the 2020-2021 school year.
In spring 2020, Res Life announced upperclassmen would no longer be permitted to live in dorms, but assured the availability of on-campus apartments.
Associate Director of Residential Life Catherine David said Res Life will first relocate students who expressed interest in moving. Some students in WCA had placed their name on a waitlist to gain spots in ECA or Nicholson. Moving students off campus is a last resort.
Mass communication sophomore Jasmine Turner planned on living in Nicholson next semester, where her rent would be partially covered by scholarships. Now, the unpredictable cost of potential partner properties place her in a difficult financial situation.
“It’s just a really dismissive move on LSU’s part. Dismissive of student safety and of their upperclassmen,” Turner said.
Waller said he anticipates the rates of any potential off-campus partner properties to be similar to the cost of living in Nicholson. Nothing will be guaranteed until at least the end of the month, and at least three weeks after the housing cancellation date.
“It’s still in the works,” Waller said. “We have a solicitation out for a master rental agreement and that’s what we’re waiting on. I don’t want to announce any names until we have those names.”
The partner properties will be designed to offer a traditional residential life experience, complete with suit-style rooms and RAs to enforce rules. Ideally, they are looking at complexes within walking distance of campus, and fee bills will still be used to collect rent.
“Some of the things students have expressed concern about, like rent and whatnot, we are working through this to make this as seamless a transition for them as possible,” David said.
Finance sophomore Sema’j Hawkins said he was “disappointed, but not surprised,” when he saw the email. He signed a lease at an off-campus apartment for the upcoming school year, but is one of many students advocating against the relocation.
The mistakes, in Hawkins' opinion, were twofold: the University accepted increased numbers of students despite last year’s housing difficulties, and students were not given adequate advanced notice.
“This pandemic has been in full effect since March, and the University had more than enough time to realize that with the surplus of students that they were accepting, that there would be limited housing,” Hawkins said. “It’s now mid-July, and now upperclassmen students that were kicked out of housing have about a month to find somewhere to stay.
“Truly unbelievable,” Hawkins said. “But with this University, nothing surprises me anymore.”