Classism underlies third-year off-campus housing policy

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Author: Gregory Feiner

Getting approved to live off campus as a junior was more difficult than getting accepted to Occidental this year. According to Chad Myers and Juls White of Residential Education and Housing Services (ResEd), only 15 of the 90 current sophomores who applied to live off campus were approved initially, and only 25 were approved in the next wave of evaluations (roughly a 28 percent acceptance rate). Even though Myers and White said that number will likely rise, that’s still a dramatic drop-off from the past five years, in which the lowest off-campus acceptance rate was 47 percent in 2012–13.

This competitive off-campus selection process places extra stress on students who need to live off campus to afford Occidental’s tuition. Now, I don’t mean to say that ResEd is making everyone’s lives unnecessarily difficult on purpose, or that they have bad intentions – but the off-campus policies have inherent class biases and need to be restructured.

A double on campus goes for roughly $1,000 a month, more expensive than renting in Eagle Rock or Highland Park, or, in the case of locals, living at home and commuting to school. Though financial aid is adjusted based on housing cost averages determined by the California Student Aid Commission, according to acting Director of Financial Aid Gina Becerril, living off campus still provides much greater financial flexibility.

The off-campus selection process, according to ResEd’s off-campus living workshop, takes into consideration three primary factors: conduct history, GPA and campus involvement. These criteria are meant to ensure that students who live off campus will, based on their histories, be good neighbors and remain academically afloat and engaged in the Occidental community.

But these criteria are misguided. If students need to live off campus to afford tuition, they should be able to do so. They shouldn’t have to worry that a poorly hidden bottle of Jack Daniels might prevent them from being able to afford college.

According to Scotty Pruitt (sophomore), White said that, since this sophomore class is roughly 50 people smaller than the junior class, they let fewer students live off campus. This led to a more competitive selection process.

But — disregarding the fact that campus will likely be even more crowded next year, given that some Berkus Hall rooms will be converted into triples next year for the first time — that still disadvantages students who need to live off campus for financial reasons.

Take Kylie Brakeman (sophomore), for instance.

“I put in a sad, pathetic request to ResEd to live off campus with my mother and father, which is sure to be a wild, rockin’ time,” she said. “It is the only financially feasible option for me for my third year at this very expensive school.”

However, even after explaining her situation to the college, Brakeman was only put on the waiting list. And even if she does eventually get approved, the fact that she’s been held in limbo this long is absurd.

“I think that it is not fair to deny students the opportunity to live with their parents if they financially need to,” Brakeman said.

To make matters worse, some of those approved to live off campus don’t even meet ResEd’s nebulous criteria. A current Resident Advisor (RA) who wished to remain anonymous said that she could think of three people off the top of her head who were approved to live off campus about whom she had personally submitted conduct reports. In those reports, she said that she believed it would be unsafe for them to live alone.

And even if a student who can thrive in an off-campus living environment ends up getting approved, they better be extra careful. According to ResEd’s Third Year Live-Off/Revocation Policy if a student living off campus commits a conduct violation, they may have their off-campus approval revoked. If a student’s approval is revoked, they would have to move back on campus, pay room and board and still pay their rent off campus if they can’t get out of their lease – and they wouldn’t get any more financial aid to help cover the extra costs.

This is, at the very least, a major inconvenience for students of any economic background, but it’s a financial deathblow to somebody who has to live off campus out of financial necessity. I don’t mean to condone conduct violations that would warrant off-campus revocation, but if somebody moves off campus to save money, throws too loud of a party and has to drop out of school because they can’t afford the financial repercussions, that seems extremely excessive.

Bottom line: Housing policies shouldn’t prevent anyone from affording college. ResEd should treat its students like the adults they are and rethink its off-campus procedures.

Gregory Feiner is a sophomore theater major. He can be reached at feiner@oxy.edu.

 

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