Dear Office of Student Housing,
I want to say you’re trying your best. I want to make excuses for you and tell myself that this is my fault. I want to believe that you care about Wellesley’s student body, our mental health, our well-being, our sleep. I wish I could thank you for making our lives easier, fostering a hospitable living environment for all of us, and making sure we feel cared for by securing a room and a bed for every student. I’ve really wanted to believe that the Wellesley administration and Student Housing in particular cared more than this. I am disappointed to find out you don’t. The housing crisis at Wellesley is unacceptable and deeply upsetting—and I’m not the first to say it.
After a summer interning in New York, I was excited to come back to Wellesley to continue my studies as an English major, resume work at my job on campus, and invest more time into the orgs I’m involved in before going abroad in the spring. The last two years have been difficult for me, primarily due to academics, being thousands of miles from home, wrestling with my mental health, and other issues that are typical of college life. Wellesley has never been consistent in making accommodations for my struggles.
Here is where I take a moment to thank the administration who has helped me—thank you to the workers at Student Financial Services, the Stone Center, Health Services, the Office of Residential Life, and the class deans. You made a way for me to stay at Wellesley when I faced difficulties in my classes during my first year due to mental health issues, when I cried in SFS because I couldn’t afford to pay tuition, when I had severe tension headaches that kept me from completing my work, and when I suddenly got placed on forced financial leave at the end of this summer. Thank you for helping me stay in school. I would not be on campus without you.
Though I’ve received accommodations from so many generous people at Wellesley who are doing their jobs, our resources are inconsistent and our systems are broken. I don’t say this without reason. On August 6, I received a distressing and life-altering email from Student Financial Services. The notice arrived without prior warning from SFS, and it came as a shock to me and my family:
“Our records indicate that you have not registered for courses for the Fall 2019. At this time, I am writing to notify you that your housing assignment has been cancelled and you’re being placed on a financial leave of absence from Wellesley College for the Fall 2019. This leave is effective as of June 2, 2019, and will remain in effect until the conditions outlined below are satisfied.”
There is nothing more embarrassing than being kicked out of school because your family can’t afford to pay the bill. There is nothing more disappointing for a parent than the call home with the news that their eldest daughter—their daughter who was the high school valedictorian, who goes to the most prestigious women’s college in the nation despite being the first in her family to attend college—is not allowed to continue her education due to an unresolved balance. There is nothing more life-shattering than going from college student to college drop-out in a matter of minutes.
In order to return to Wellesley, I was required to repay my outstanding balance, as well as pay tuition for the Fall 2019 semester in full by the first day of classes. I’m thankful that my family found a way to resolve the balance, and I was able to return to Wellesley this semester. However, this didn’t happen overnight and without unbelievable stress and sacrifice. My return to Wellesley has been anything but smooth, and though I believed my return to campus would ease my anxiety, it has only heightened it.
After resolving my balance, I was placed on a waitlist by Student Housing in order to receive a room on campus. Their offices asked me to make arrangements to live somewhere off-campus in case I didn’t receive a housing assignment before the beginning of the semester. Fortunately, less than a week before I moved in, I got housing—I would be living in a quad with three other underclasspeople who I had never met. Though certainly preferable to the outrageous price of renting a room in the town of Wellesley, which exceeds $1,800 a month, my living situation has been a severe inconvenience and source of anxiety since my return to campus. After two years of living in some of Wellesley’s worst accommodations—a “dingle” my first year and another small room that required me to bunk as a sophomore—am I being entitled when I say that I think I deserve better than this?
“At least I don’t have to bunk” is the mantra that has carried me through these past three weeks. But am I the only one who thinks that “at least I don’t have to bunk” is a pretty low bar? Most Wellesley students don’t even have to bunk once, let alone twice. As students on financial aid, we tend to settle for Wellesley’s worst—at least I find myself doing that. But I only settle because I don’t know what it’s like to have anything better.
Students on financial aid are constantly at a disadvantage when it comes to dealing with just about everything at Wellesley. My family not paying on time means that over the past two years, I have either been unable to sign up for housing, or I have received the lowest priority number when signing up for rooms due to the financial hold. (To my sophomore year roommate, thank you for choosing to room with me despite my priority number.) It also means that for every semester except my first semester at Wellesley, I have had to individually email professors alerting them about the financial hold, asking them to reserve a spot for me because I could not register for courses with the rest of my class. Being a student on financial aid means that I work 15 hours a week, sacrificing sleep, time studying, and social activities, just so I can make up for what my parents aren’t paying of my tuition bill. Being a student on financial aid also means hordes of paperwork being processed every year, begging my parents to be better this year about sending in their W2’s and tax returns on time, going through the appeals process each year when SFS increases my tuition again, and being punished with that dreaded “financial hold,” even if the reason for late payment is a delayed appeal decision from SFS. It means avoiding conversations about money on campus, it means staying at Wellesley over Wintersession to work, it means saying no to internships and other opportunities in favor of a summer job at home, it means dealing with rude students when driving the access van, it means not going abroad because your family can’t handle the extra expenses despite grants from the Office of International Study, it means picking up a Computer Science minor because you can’t afford to just be an English major, it means cutting back on orgs to make time for more hours at work, it means not going to therapy because you can’t afford to pay for your sessions with an off-campus therapist anymore and the Stone Center has proved to be unhelpful.
Wellesley is a need-blind institution, meaning students are admitted based on their academic and personal merit, regardless of their financial situation. Yet this policy seems deceptive when the college is unable to address not only my financial needs, but my physical, mental, and emotional needs as well. Obviously, every student on financial aid has different experiences, some worse than mine and some better, but what I know is true for all of us is that our time at Wellesley has not come without sacrifice. This semester’s housing fiasco has disproportionately affected students on financial aid, as most of Wellesley’s failing systems tend to do. I am tired of being treated like a second-class citizen on campus because of my financial status. If this school is going to claim diversity, accessibility, and progressive values, I’m not being entitled, ungrateful, or unreasonable in demanding better treatment than this.
I also want to acknowledge that Student Housing’s inability to accommodate students on campus has not just impacted students on financial aid, but also includes sibs who considered taking a leave of absence but never fully committed to leaving, students returning from a semester off, students whose plans to study abroad fell through, and students who require special housing accommodations, such as medical singles or accessible housing. No one should have to live in basements, repurposed offices, forced triples or quads, rooms without windows, rooms that aren’t rooms, rooms with dangerous living conditions because these dorms are falling apart at the seams, or the College Club.
To all of my sibs who have been affected by the problems with Student Housing this year or in the past, I’m so sorry. Whether you’re still living out of your suitcase as you wait to be placed in a room, you’re settled down in a space that is anything but suitable or, like me, you haven’t unpacked for four weeks because you’re just waiting for the minute you can switch rooms—you are not alone.
To the Office of Student Housing—
from the September 2019 issue