Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

When first years left campus for November break, it was the last time many of them would be on campus until next fall. A small minority expect to return to campus in the spring term, but other first years, who are not permitted to return to campus next semester, expressed frustration that the housing exceptions process has slighted some in need.

Most first years are not invited back to campus next spring, due to a COVID-19 community safety provision to de-densify residential college life. The first years will swap places with sophomores who are studying remotely this term. However, around 300 first years who applied for special on-campus housing exceptions were granted spring term housing in a Nov. 16 email from Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd. According to Boyd, the figure is around triple the number of sophomores currently on campus, who similarly petitioned for housing exceptions earlier this year.

“Every application was read with care multiple times by multiple people,” Boyd wrote in an email to the News. “Given our limited capacity and public health constraints, many difficult decisions had to be made.”

According to Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, top priority went to international students — due to uncertainties with visa and travel arrangements and additional challenges from studying in different time zones — as well as to contracted Reserve Officer Training Corps students and students with high levels of financial need.

The selection process, according to Boyd, included reviews by the Yale College Dean’s Office, the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid, the Office of International Students and Scholars and the residential college heads and deans.

But Jeff Pham ’24 expressed concern over what some first years see as a lack of transparent communication in the timeline of the decisions process. He said that first years like himself who filed applications earlier in the year were given several conflicting announcement dates.

In screenshots of a group chat of first-generation, low-income students in the class of 2024 obtained by the News, five students expressed similar sentiments and said they received unclear or conflicting information from first-year counselors, residential college deans and housing affairs representatives.

Isaac Yu ’24 agreed, telling the News that “a large group” of students was frustrated with the administration over how long it took to figure out who would be granted spring housing exceptions.

First years were asked to request exemptions by Oct. 23, and some did so as early as the summer and the beginning of the semester, though late applications were also accepted. They were not notified about whether their requests had been granted until Nov. 16 — which Boyd acknowledged was later than anticipated, due to the “sheer volume of applications” the office received and “the difficulty of the decisions and subsequent extensiveness of the reviews.” She added that the office did not set a specific response date.

Pham also questioned why no appeals process or waitlist has been formed for students whose requests were denied in the Nov. 16 announcement, considering that some students granted exceptions have chosen to decline the offer.

Allin Luong ’24, for example, told the News that he received spring on-campus housing but ultimately declined the offer because he wanted to take advantage of the two summer credits available to first years and sophomores who spend one semester studying remotely. He also noted that, because he found out so late, he had developed a backup plan that was ultimately more appealing than the on-campus option.

Boyd said that the review board already accounted for the likelihood that some students granted on-campus exceptions would not accept the offer, which is why they did not create a waitlist.

Because Boyd observed that “a significant number” of sophomores granted on-campus housing in the fall did not accept the offer, she wrote that the University offered housing to a “larger number of first-years, anticipating that not all of them would accept.”

“I don’t have a place to live for spring semester because of personal reasons which I listed in my spring exception request form, and they read that and still denied me housing on campus,” Lex Schultz ’24 wrote in an email to the News. “I responded asking about an appeals process, and I got an unpersonalized email from Dean Boyd saying there is no appeals process.”

Schultz shared that they needed to secure housing next semester in a tweet that garnered more than a thousand retweets, and they were eventually able to find an apartment with roommates.

“They’ve done absolutely nothing to help me; no one even followed up with me after I was denied housing to make sure I was okay or help me find housing off campus,” Schultz wrote in their original email to the News. “Their emails are callous and unsympathetic to those with housing instability.”

Residential college staff have been working with first years whose petitions were denied and have also been supporting students as they prepare for next semester, wrote Boyd in a separate Tuesday email to the News. She also stressed the importance of reducing the size of the student community on and off campus as a public health strategy to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Yale College Dean’s Office is therefore discouraging first-year students from renting off-campus apartments in New Haven this spring, just as it did with sophomores in the fall,” she wrote. “This is an effective way to reduce the risk to the New Haven and campus communities.”

Hamera Shabbir ’24 said that she cited three reasons when she applied — that she lives in California, which is three hours behind Eastern Standard Time, that she shares a room back home and that she is a first generation, low-income student. She was among the students eventually granted an on-campus housing exception. So was Yu, who applied for financial reasons.

Shabbir also came across anonymous comments on social media that students were exaggerating their home living circumstances in order to stay on campus, but doubted that those students constituted more than a small fraction of those who applied.

“It’s confusing and honestly a little heartbreaking to compare differences between applications,” she said. “I think the frustration doesn’t come from the small portion of the population who may have lied, but that housing is so limited for people who deserve it or need it.”

Pham felt similarly, telling the News that, even though he will be able to make it without on-campus housing, he’s “disappointed.” He described a home environment that will make learning remotely difficult, as he will need to take care of two younger siblings and his grandparents.

But Pham added that he is “more angry on behalf of people in much worse situations than [him] who didn’t get [exceptions].”

Boyd noted that Yale is equipped to help students like Pham who face challenges learning from home. “Financial aid will include a technology credit for boosting internet speeds, and funds for their food and other living expenses, even while they are at home studying remotely,” Boyd wrote.

Based on the availability of space, some first years will be housed in their residential colleges, and others will be housed on Old Campus.

Emily Tian | emily.tian@yale.edu

Madison Hahamy | madison.hahamy@yale.edu

Madison Hahamy is a junior from Chicago, Illinois majoring in English and in Human Rights. She previously wrote for the Yale Daily News and served as Senior Editor for The New Journal.