As a freshman, you’re expected to spend your first year at the University living in a residence hall on campus. This rule was first enacted in the 1970s, scrapped, returned briefly in 2007 and most recently again in 2018.
The excuses for this reinstatement may sound reasonable at first. Students living on campus display higher GPAs and a stronger sense of community, according to the University.
But while the former may be true on paper, it fails to account for the unique problems residents and commuters face. While a resident may make it to their classes quicker, it doesn’t mean they will attend. Contrarily, though a commuter may not live among their classmates, they still have opportunities to meet them. The distinct pros and cons of residing on campus do not outweigh those of commuting. Though these experiences aren’t exactly equitable, they both should remain valid options for students.
Broadly speaking, it’s not ideal for strangers—young adults at that—to have to cohabitate within four walls. While certain valuable experiences can only be had in a dorm environment, they often come at the expense of a student’s privacy and comfort.
Roommate selection, a vague and bureaucratic process, has always been problematic, as students regularly find themselves matched with bigoted, unhygienic or outright abusive roommates and suitemates. Now more than ever, students need their physical and emotional health assured. Someone disregarding social distancing guidelines in a residence hall puts their peers in a uniquely difficult situation they shouldn’t have to face.
Bringing together people of all backgrounds and beliefs should not entail forcing individuals to share their most intimate space with another, especially considering many’s social and political beliefs may disavow the identity of minority or LGBTQ+ individuals. These instances are only ever remedied following a negative, possibly traumatic incident for at least one resident—an incident that could have been avoided.
It cannot be stressed enough how important a student’s agency is in ensuring they have a valuable learning experience. The University extends first-year residency exemptions to students who are age 21 or older, married, in custody of a child, in the military, documented with a disability or residing with a guardian within 50 miles of campus. If a student wants to or needs to live off-campus, they must appeal to a committee.
The first-year housing expectation is both nonsensical and anti-student. Depression, anxiety, learning disabilities and other behavioral disorders regularly go undiagnosed in young adults; students who struggle with socializing, sleeping, studying or other executive functions don’t always benefit from simply being forced into a commune with others.
Most notable is the administration’s failure to consider diverse financial circumstances. At a time when 8.4% of the population is unemployed and the nation is inching towards recession, it is unconscionable to nickel-and-dime students and their families.
I use that term because the residential expenses do not stop at the $3,000-$4,500 per semester leases. First and second-year students living on campus must purchase a meal plan priced between $1,915 and $2,084. If they own a vehicle, they must also buy a parking permit for over $100.
These come alongside other vague fees which are supposedly not covered by tuition, including a building use fee, student excellence fee, academic excellence fee and required activity fee. On top of that, another $500 is due upon lease cancellation, as if students are renting from a landlord rather than a learning institution.
Choosing to carry this requirement over to the Fall 2020 semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic only further exposes the administration’s warped priorities. The decision to value maximizing profit over student safety is essentially corporate; it’s clear the University will continue to drain wallets in any way imaginable, and at any cost.
Kevin Doucette is a 20-year-old political science junior from New Orleans.