My mother, twin sister, and I have spent many hours in my local Chick-fil-A. Considering all three of us are vegetarians with a distaste for fast food, this probably doesn’t make much sense. Well, Chick-fil-A may have problematic politics and a significant lack of vegetarian options, but one thing it never lacks is air conditioning.
In the sweltering swamp that is the boil of a Florida summer, it’s difficult to survive the day, and impossible to sleep through the night without air conditioning. Waking up and gulping down your first breath of the morning feels like you’re swallowing a glass of warm water, not refreshing yourself with crisp oxygen. When the air conditioning in my house broke one very unfortunate Florida night in mid-June, my mother regretted to inform us that a repair was a financial stress we couldn’t shoulder at the moment, and thus, our Chick-fil-A oasis was found.
The issue of not having AC during the entirety of that Florida summer may have brought my sister and I closer through shared trauma, but the logistical reality of not being comfortable in one’s own home was stressful and awkward. Blistering heat coupled with a lack of AC is not a problem limited to Florida. In fact, hundreds of students, mostly freshmen, encountered the same issue during their first weeks of classes.
Kings Court English College House, Du Bois College House, and Gregory College House do not have AC, meaning 800 out of the 6,500 students who live in on-campus housing live without air conditioning. During the most recent heat wave, many residents chose to sleep in lounges and computer labs. Penn’s solutions included providing free Italian ices.
The Quad has had air conditioning for longer than some freshmen have been alive, and due to Hill’s massive renovation in 2017, it also has air-conditioned rooms. This isn’t simply a question of discomfort — we all know how disgusting it feels to bear this humidity and heat without relief — but one of priority. Considering all freshmen pay the same amount for their dorm rooms, those left out in the heat are sure to question why their comfort is seemingly less important.
Du Bois College House, a building that has historically embraced African American scholarship and culture, underwent a massive renovation in 2009, receiving new appliances and furniture. However, no air conditioning was installed.
The question that remains is, why does Penn choose to carry out a $15.15 million renovation in Houston Hall, yet not allocate the resources necessary for students to be able to sleep in their dorm rooms — rooms they pay a significant amount to inhabit? The word, “dormitory” implies residency, yet students in this most recent heat wave were fighting for spots in common rooms and lounges. As an ex-resident of Kings Court Room 429, I can tell you there’s nothing residential about the Kings Court computer room.
The Houston Hall renovation cost a hefty chunk. If Penn had the funds to afford such a renovation targeted toward the improvement of dining options, why hasn’t it allocated the appropriate funds to residential buildings? Penn has the money to afford renovations, and a brief look at the money spent in recent years on new dining establishments and classrooms confirms this. The argument that Houston Hall can service all students and not just a certain percentage falls flat on its sweaty face when we examine the unfair fact that some students are provided AC in their dorms, while others are simply not.
The barely recognizable downstairs of Houston Hall now features a self-proclaimed “more comfortable and convenient atmosphere.” Does that mean students should have selected Houston Hall as their temporary quarters when their rooms became too unbearable? Hours at Houston have been altered to more fully meet students’ needs. If Penn can recognize that the needs of students are individual and varied in regard to eating schedules, why can’t they recognize the need to sleep in one’s own room?
Why can’t a comfortable and convenient atmosphere be a goal for all buildings, especially residential ones, on Penn’s campus? Freshmen living in Kings Court English College House, Du Bois, or Gregory already feel slightly othered simply because they’re not the Quad. Why perpetuate this phenomenon by not providing the same air conditioning service that students in the Quad don’t even pay extra for?
As far as I can tell, a sandwich carving station is not the king on a hierarchy of student needs. Being able to sleep in one’s own room and not wake up drenched in sweat ranks slightly higher. I think anyone crawling through the summer without air conditioning would agree.
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College sophomore from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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