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Credit: Emily Xu

Over the past year, undergraduate housing and the policy surrounding it has garnered considerable attention. Penn has announced that it would construct the new undergraduate dorm New College House West, install air conditioning in Kings Court English College House and Du Bois College House next summer, and renovate the Quad in the next five to seven years. 

With these recent undergraduate housing developments, many graduate students have grown frustrated with the lack of resources allocated to Sansom East, Penn's only on-campus housing option exclusively devoted to graduate students. 

While 83.5 percent of graduate students live off-campus in University City, the Graduate Hospital area, and Center City, Sansom East is currently home to 528 graduate students, Director of Communications and External Relations for Penn Business Services Barbara Lea-Kruger said. 

For many international students, Sansom East is often the only option, and graduate student residents say the housing is not up to par with other housing options on campus.

Master of Science in Applied Geoscience candidate Esther Arthur said the college house was old and the maintenance was “horrible.” She described a living situation where students had to move into unclean spaces and maintenance took two weeks to fix a light in her bathroom that was not working.

"Sansom East is not worth what people pay for it," Arthur said of the building, where monthly prices range from $970 to $1,726. “The only benefit was that I was on campus."

Nursing doctoral candidate and Chair of The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly’s Student Life Committee Matthew Lee said he also found poor conditions upon moving into Sansom East which caused him to use Nursing facilities for a week. Lee said that the wall of his bathroom was “half-taken out," his toilet wasn’t working, and that repairs happened around the building at least every other week, especially for leaks.

Still, Sansom East is a popular choice for international students who face unique challenges finding housing, Arthur said. She explained that off-campus housing is more difficult for international students to secure, as many do not have the means to make a deposit, to view the living space beforehand, or to connect easily with other students looking for housing.

Additionally, Lee said that on-campus housing is generally more convenient for students on financial aid since it can be paid for through Penn Pay. 

Executive Director for Business Services Doug Berger acknowledged that Sansom East has traditionally been a "safety net," especially for international students, and that last year there was a small waiting list for graduate on-campus housing. 

Another option for graduate students to live on campus is to work as a Graduate Advisor in undergraduate college houses. In the 2018-19 school year, 137 students serve as Graduate Advisors Lea-Kruger said. With the opening of NCHW, 12 new Graduate and Resident Advisor positions will open up in fall 2021, according to Director of Four-Year Houses and Residential Programs Ryan Keytack.

Sansom East was constructed on Chestnut and 36th streets 48 years ago, and since then has received air conditioning and heating renovations in 2000 and furniture and cosmetic renovations in 2011. The building can expect its next set of renovations within the next five to ten years, Berger said.

Still, graduate students who either prefer or need to live on-campus say that renovations for Sansom Place East should be a priority. 

"Sansom is only open to graduate students, we still pay all of the money for really crappy housing," Arthur said. "A lot of people don't have [the option of searching for an off-campus apartment], so they get stuck with Sansom."