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Although AC for Gregory College House was promised, it will not be installed this year. Credit: Gordon Ho

After Residential Services released room assignments for on-campus housing this week, first years expressed frustration and disappointment with the housing process. 

In order to de-densify on-campus housing as a precaution against the coronavirus pandemic, the University announced on June 25 that students must live in private bedrooms with a maximum of six students sharing one bathroom. Some first years were to live in dorms that traditionally do not house first-year students.

After receiving their fall assignments on July 17, many students felt it was unreasonable that they only have until July 31 to confirm their housing assignments without facing additional charges. 

Rising College first-year Leah Mizrachi, who is from Panama, said she is frustrated that she has to confirm her housing within a small time period in order to avoid a cancellation fee, as she does not know when travel to the United States will be feasible.

“The airport in Panama is still closed, so I can't even know how I'll get to Penn,” Mizrachi said.

Students who cancel their housing assignment from August 1 through August 20 will be charged a $500 fee, while students who cancel from August 21 through September 2, before taking occupancy, will be charged $1,000. Those who cancel their on-campus housing for the fall semester will not be guaranteed housing for the spring. 

Rising College first-year Serrane Reaz was placed in Gregory College House, which was supposed to have air conditioning installed this summer, but did not because of the pandemic. She has requested a room change because of a health condition that is exacerbated by heat and does not want to confirm her housing until Residential Services honors her room change request. 

“I live in Bangladesh, which is really far away from the United States by plane. It's an expensive and very lengthy process just to get to Penn, and we have to quarantine there as well,” Reaz said. “So, all that trouble to end up in a dorm which causes great discomfort and is a hassle for me, it really doesn't seem worth it.”  

Credit: Isabella Cossu

Some students don't know if it's worth flying to Penn, or even if they can travel to Philadelphia, this fall.

Rising Engineering first-year Justin Iler said the cancellation fees were excessive and inflexible given the precarious financial situation of many families and the rising coronavirus case counts in Philadelphia. He hopes that Residential Services will extend the housing deadline so families can make a more informed decision about whether or not to send children to campus.

Many first-year students, who submitted their housing forms in April, wished there was an opportunity to resubmit their fall 2020 housing preferences after Penn announced its new housing guidelines in late June. 

Rising College first-year Prathinav Vishnu said he now wishes he could have re-submitted his housing preferences because first years are now allowed to live in upperclassmen dorms, such as the high rises, in light of the new guidelines.

Like Vishnu, Iler said he wishes he could modify his housing preferences after learning of the new guidelines.

“I think it was unprofessional for [Residential Services] to say, 'hey, we're changing the housing game here, but we expect you guys to have the same strategy for the game, even though we just changed the rules,'” Iler said.

Both Vishnu and Iler were assigned to live in Gregory College House, a dorm that they did not include in the six rankings on their preferences form. 

First-year students who want to change rooms for non-medical reasons must wait until September to submit a request. Students with medical accommodations and returning students can submit room change requests now, according to Residential Services guidelines.

Reaz said she wished Residential Services would have announced that Gregory would not have air conditioning earlier than July, or given students a chance to change their housing preferences.  

“All the classes I registered for are going to be online, so I will be spending a lot more time in that room, which doesn't have a proper cooling system, so that is something that worries me,” Reaz said.

Some first-year students feel that Residential Services should be more transparent about assignments by releasing the percentages of first-year residents in each dorm. Current data about on-campus residents reflect College House populations “under normal circumstances," which will differ in some Houses this fall due to the coronavirus, according to College Houses and Academic Services.

Reaz said that the release of housing data would alleviate much of the stress and anxiety that first years have about making friends in college, particularly for those who were assigned to dorms traditionally designated for upperclassmen.

“[Releasing data] would be really helpful because we also want to build a community within our class of 2024, and if we don't know where people are, or if we're even surrounded by people who aren't [first years], it adds uncertainty and makes the tough transition to college tougher,” Reaz said.

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