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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston is inadequate at providing housing

Dom Ferreira
The UMass Boston East Residence Hall. Photo by Dom Ferreira / Photography Editor

When I first came to UMass Boston to visit the campus, what immediately captured my eye was the modern complexion of the dorm buildings, the vibrant and sage green that resembles home and the view of the city to wake up to. I imagined meeting my roommate for the first time, getting breakfast together, shopping for dorm decorations and making new friends on the same floor. This is what mainly drew me to the school and was part of the college experience I was hoping for.

However, as I am writing this from the isolation of my empty apartment and navigating my first semester alone at college—a completely new chapter of my life—I know that my experience is far from that.

Although I am wholeheartedly grateful for the financial privilege that I have to be able to live close to campus, the isolation that I have experienced as a first-year student does not match up to my expectations coming into this school. For many other students, their lack of housing poses more serious issues for them than just loneliness.

There are many students who lack resources and aren’t being met with their needs. With the rising requests for housing in recent years, more students—especially the ones that need it the most—are being turned away.

One of my friends, who I met in the Direction for Students Potential program, told me she was rejected for housing but couldn’t commute from where she lives. When I reconnected with her again recently, she told me that she had transferred to a community college because of the pressure to commute and the inability to afford an apartment.

In a conversation I had with another one of my friends from DSP, Rosilainy—who gave me permission to use her name—told me about the everyday struggle she faces making it to her 8 a.m. class by commuting on the MBTA. “I think it wasn’t fair at all that I have to look for something outside campus from one moment to another because I wasn’t able to get in,” said Rosi. She recalled the difficulties of finding housing when notified that she wasn’t offered a dorm with only “a few weeks [left] to find a place to live.”

I totally resonate with the feeling of looking for a place to live. It is a feeling of vast loneliness and vulnerability that comes with the privation of something so basic to your physical and mental well-being. This is the experience of securing an educational opportunity but not having a place to live.

The dorms have become one of the most appealing features of our school, attracting large numbers of applicants. Many students that I talked to saw dorm housing as a rite of passage and a way to experience independence. However, if it is not guaranteed for first-year students, students with fewer resources or even international students, the image of the dorms that the university is selling is highly superficial.

Housing is a critical part of the college experience, but many students struggle to maintain this pillar of security. According to Timely MD, “three in five college students experience housing insecurity,” and an article from Housing Matters says that “more than half of students at two-year colleges and over 40 percent of students at four-year colleges experienced housing insecurity in 2020, and 14 percent experienced homelessness.”

This vast lack of housing security is a serious issue and can be detrimental to many students. Timely MD reports that “research associates basic needs insecurity with poorer physical health, symptoms of depression, and higher perceived stress.” Other things that are impacted by such insecurity include “college completion rates, persistence and credit attainment.”

With these issues in mind, I talked to the Associate Dean and Director of Housing and Residential Life, Jen Maitino, who kindly took time out of her day to offer me more insight into how the housing office operates. I learned that the residence halls are newly built, having just been finished in 2018, because, historically, UMass Boston is a commuter school. The dorms were built with the intention of providing a number of beds that doesn’t exceed the financial limit, while testing out students’ interest. The potential for a “phase two”—the option to expand housing—is open.

Jen also told me that the number of students who are interested in housing has spiked since the pandemic, with “a very long list” of students applying for dorms. However, even with this amount of students showing interest, the administration is clearly still indifferent to the situation and, according to Maitino, is not currently focused on building new dorms.

It is not unknown to the administration that our school has a large number of students who are financially unstable and need more resources to support their schooling. Yes, the administration shows an effort by providing some financial support and programs to help, but there aren’t many major actions made to fundamentally help those students. We have the money to build a new quadrangle, but not enough money to provide housing and new buildings? What is the quad even for—students to sleep in? No, it’s to attract even more prospective students, so the school can keep making money.

The housing office strictly follows the rule of “first come first serve.” However, such a notion discriminates against students who are lacking resources while under the guise of promoting equal treatment for all. For many, there are extraneous circumstances around getting their application in late—some because of the unfamiliarity with the application process. Especially for those who can’t afford off-campus housing, on-campus housing becomes their only option, and being rejected for a dorm might mean looking to other universities; my friend who ended up transferring is an example of this. If only the housing department could assist and be more lenient to those having a hard time finding housing by reserving rooms, and eventually building more buildings. This could help students deal with financial instability and housing insecurity.

It has been statistically proven that college students with disadvantaged backgrounds experience housing discrimination. According to Housing Matters, housing instability largely affects certain groups of people—“students of color, LGBTQ students, first-generation students, all grant recipients, part-time students, and students who are parents, widening existing disparities.” Although our school does well in sustaining students of different backgrounds, it refuses to acknowledge their barriers when trying to secure spots. The “first come first serve” is just an excuse to not take responsibility for disadvantaged students and is just another way for the university to say “it’s not our problem.”

So, in my view, UMass Boston is hiding under the disguise of being a financially affordable school with great resources, when in reality it is just like a private school—for the wealthy and financially stable. If you don’t get a dorm and can’t commute or can’t afford an apartment, then too bad; you either drop out or don’t have a place to sleep. And if you are an international student who is not rich and was denied housing, then oops—you’re stranded in a foreign country because the university has no intention in helping you.

We hide under the disguise that we’re a welcoming and diverse community with a large body of students from different countries and with different ethnicities. We call ourselves diverse while not doing enough to accommodate our students’ needs, knowing that they lack the basic resources for a proper education.

Maybe we are different from other schools in terms of our student body, but we can’t really call ourselves diverse when the people we accept are only the ones that are able to afford housing and living off campus. Either the school should take action in building more buildings to support students, or dispense the mask of glory and hypocrisy that it is putting on.

With the interest in dorms and the cry for financial support clearly being seen, major actions from the university are long overdue. This is a call for the administrators to take action. On the part of our students, we need to take action and appeal to the administration for the construction of more residence halls. Letting our voices be heard and demonstrating our interest is the only way for the university to put our needs before its own profits.

About the Contributor
Dom Ferreira, Photo Editor