College Updates Housing Accommodations
Issue   |   Tue, 02/20/2018 - 19:37
Photo Courtesy of Alura Chung-Mehdi '19
The Offices of Accessibility Services released changes to housing accommodations policies on Feb. 14 that allow students using housing accommodations to enter Early Room Selection with friends.

For the first time, students with housing accommodations will be able to enter Early Room Draw, an effort by the Office of Residential Life and the Office of Accessibility Services to allow students with accommodations enter Room Draw with friends, an option that was not previously available. The update was announced in an email on Feb. 14 from Director of Accessibility Services Jodi Foley to students previously using housing accommodations.

In previous years, students who had documented housing accommodations submitted their top three dorm choices to Foley. They would then be placed in housing based on accommodations needs and preferences (such as substance-free or single-gender floor).

This year, ResLife is trying out a program called Early Room Selection. The goal of the system is to create “an ethical and transparent process of room selection for students who choose to use approved housing accommodations for their documented disability(ies)” that provides students with housing accommodations “the opportunity to choose a friend or friends who would live in the same residence hall with the student who has housing accommodations,” according to a document sent by Foley to students with housing accommodations.

Under the new system, students with accommodations will receive a lottery number based on their class year and will have the option to bring one or two friends to participate in Early Room Selection. This new system makes it possible for students with single-room accommodations to have friends live on the same floor as them.

These changes come after recommendations from Roosevelt @ Amherst, a branch of the Roosevelt Institute, which brings students together to research policy. Last March students in the group published an article in The Student that outlined their suggestions for how to improve life for students living with disabilities on campus. One of these suggestions was to create a “Buddy System” for students with housing accommodations, much like the one introduced this year.

The process of securing Early Room Selection was not easy, according to Annika Ariel ’19, the current president of Roosevelt @ Amherst. After meeting with a variety of administrators in in October 2016, Roosevelt @ Amherst created a survey to research students’ satisfaction with housing accommodations. However, the survey never reached the student body, according to Ariel.

“When two of us [from Roosevelt] brought this up at a Presidential Task Force on Accessibility and Inclusion meeting, we were told Accessibility Services and ResLife didn’t feel there needed to be a survey,” Ariel said. “So Joshua Ferrer ’18E and I posted on Facebook about everything that had transpired, [and] AAS wrote a letter in support. Shortly afterwards, according to [Chief Student Affairs Officer] Suzanne Coffey, [President] Biddy [Martin] convened a meeting of staff to talk about changing this. And then the policy was finally implemented.”

Though Ariel said the accommodations changes are “satisfactory,” she felt that student input was overlooked during the creation of the policy.

“The new system finally provides most of the same opportunities non-disabled students have to disabled students,” Ariel said. “I think the process is what Roosevelt @ Amherst is more concerned about. Student voices were ignored and only deemed relevant after a Facebook post. While the end result is wonderful, the process is worrisome.”

“Other colleges have been doing this for years,” Ariel added. “Hundreds of students have missed out on the opportunity to live with friends, which is disappointing. Speaking personally, I missed out on two years of living with my friends because I’m blind. Saying I ‘chose’ to use housing accommodations and not enter room draw is like saying I chose to be blind.”

The process of implementing accommodations changes is not the only ResLife action to come under question. ResLife also announced changes to the general Room Draw system on Feb. 7.

Under the new policy, each student in a class year would be randomly assigned a number; 1-500 for rising seniors, 501-1,000 for rising juniors and 1,001-1,500 for rising sophomores. After receiving their number, students would form room groups — the average of their numbers would determine when they could pick rooms.

Previously, all rising seniors were assigned the number five, all rising juniors were threes and all rising sophomores were ones. A room group’s average would then be randomly sorted within all the other groups of the same average.

Justin Lee ’19, a member of the Student Housing Advisory Committee (SHAC), spoke during the Feb. 12 Association of Amherst Students town hall on the lack of communication between ResLife and SHAC this year.

After the town hall, however, SHAC did meet with members of ResLife, including Director of Residential Life Andrea Cadyma, who was receptive to the committee’s feedback on the new policy, according to Lee.

While he admits that the current Living Unit Value (LUV) system is not perfect, he pointed out some of the disadvantages to the proposed change.

“It has the potential to split up friend groups where there may be a even divide between those with high numbers and those with low numbers,” Lee said. “We think this potentially would be exacerbated when coming to rising sophomores whose friendships may not have been fully solidified yet. These groups are the ones most vulnerable to split, causing the campus to fragment even further.”

After many students’ responded negatively to the new changes, especially at the AAS Town Hall on Party Policy, ResLife announced that the new system would not be implemented for this year’s room draw and would instead remain as it had in past years.

In a joint statement compiled by Senior Associate Dean of Students Dean Gendron, Foley and Cadyma, they said that more time to implement the changes would have incited stronger student support.

“If we had had time to make the proposed HSNs [Housing Selection Numbers] known to the community sooner, we believe that students would have had a better chance to understand and appreciate this simplified approach,” the statement said.
“Since the first student voices about the HSNs produced anxiety and confusion for others ... we decided to maintain the LUVs for another cycle so we can continue to collect student input and focus on an extended information campaign for 2019,” the administrators wrote.