Last week, while we adjusted to Zoom classes and debated the efficacy of various grading policies, Yale undergraduates received an email from Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarribar: Yale College will offer no annex housing opportunities for the 2020-21 school year, meaning that some undergraduates will be forced to move off campus despite choosing on-campus housing. Because seniors get first choice during housing draw and first-years and sophomores are required to live on campus, an unspecified portion of the Class of 2022 will be evicted, required by Yale to find housing elsewhere in New Haven.
As justification, Dean Lizarribar pointed to the numerous halted construction projects on Yale’s campus, including on annex housing, due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. With regards to the difficulty for undergraduates in finding housing options, she wrote: “This may sound daunting, especially in the current circumstances, but New Haven has ample off-campus housing options and it is easier than ever to manage housing searches online. Remember, too, that many leases only become available in the spring and summer, so new options will continue to appear. It’s just a different timeline than the on-campus housing process.” The email was so sparse with details that members of my own residential college were confused as to whether parts of the college constituted “annex housing.”
When I read the email, I felt grateful that I had already secured off-campus housing for the coming school year before leaving New Haven. But I still felt anxious and confused for my classmates who are expecting to remain in their residential colleges, the so-called hallmark of the Yale experience and the reason why many of us chose to attend.
The problem is that, despite the platitudes expressed in this email, finding off-campus housing is much more difficult than Dean Lizarribar lets on, and the cost of housing is dramatically inflated in the parts of New Haven nearest to Yale. The time to comfortably sign a lease for the coming academic year without stress isn’t during the summer—it’s at the beginning of the spring semester, in January or February. Now, Yale expects undergraduate students to sort through picked-over housing options much later in the housing process, doing it all without being in New Haven to tour housing options in the first place.
This is combined with the already complicated process in place for students on financial aid to be reimbursed for off-campus housing costs, an issue the email does not address at all. Right now, undergraduates on financial aid who choose to live off-campus don’t see payments from Yale until at least October, meaning that they must have the cash on hand for furniture, security deposits and other household necessities to survive until then. In addition, most undergraduates will have paid at least two rent payments and needed several weeks’ food supply before ever seeing a cent from the University. This was not mentioned as a factor for consideration in Dean Lizarribar’s email, meaning that several rising juniors may need to go into debt for housing Yale is requiring them to seek.
Part of why the email is such a dramatic shock is because Yale College Dean Marvin Chun has made it a primary goal of his time leading the College to ensure that students remain on campus, something that we clearly cannot do when students are required to vacate Yale housing for lack of availability. There are, of course, reforms that must be considered for the residential college system to appeal to undergraduates over off-campus options. But a lack of security in even having housing certainly does not make me want to return to living on campus. Indeed, these decisions combined with the recent construction of two new residential colleges should make us wonder whether Yale College is more interested in expanding enrollment to add members to the Yale community, or expanding enrollment for the financial padding which results from a 15% increase in tuition income.
I would never suggest that construction crews remodeling and repurposing Yale buildings work despite CDC recommendations not to do so. These are extraordinary times, and Yale’s ability to offer on-campus housing for the coming year may be irredeemably compromised. However, Yale College owes more to the rising junior class than a confusing, stressful email with little direction or reassurance.
Instead, I posit that Yale College offer direct communication with undergraduates who may be forced to live off-campus, including providing stipends for additional costs incurred by travel to campus, furniture and other housing necessities and to accommodate for lateness in informing students about their need to seek alternative housing options. Yale College should also offer these undergraduates the option to have housing options sought and chosen by the Yale College Dean’s Office, alleviating the need for undergraduates to seek housing from home. In addition, Yale College must provide the students on financial aid forced to live off-campus with lump-sum stipends — which would ordinarily be used for on-campus housing per financial aid agreements — before the beginning of the academic year to account for security deposits, furniture and early housing expenses.
Through these methods, Yale can ensure that undergraduates don’t experience the additional stress of eviction on top of the already-harrowing stresses many are currently experiencing as a result of COVID-19. The relationship between Yale and its students isn’t merely a business transaction; at its best, this relationship is the ongoing formation of a community, something we can only do when we look out for each other. And when you do something — even out of necessity — to hurt a member of your community, you have an obligation to make it right. Yale, I’m looking at you to make this right.
MCKINSEY CROZIER is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .