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3-1-21-new-college-house-west-covid-19-construction-andrea-mendoza
New College House West will be opening this fall for students of all years. Credit: Andrea Mendoza

Housing has always been a stressful and confusing process for students, especially with Penn’s lottery-based placement system. While intended to provide fair selection, the lottery system and its randomized time slots are actually often detrimental to students and their hopes for housing. 

This year, rising sophomores were especially affected. For starters, Penn recently implemented a new policy requiring all sophomores to live on campus, which already caused an uproar among the Class of 2024. While the university’s desire to foster community engagement is understandable, there are certainly much better ways to promote bonding and connection than by forcing students to live somewhere.

“Living on campus for another year is really inconvenient for a lot of students. There are many students looking forward to living in chapter houses for Greek life or even just looking forward to a less costly living situation,” said College first-year Mahisha Tanna. 

To make matters worse, rising juniors and seniors receive priority when selecting housing, causing rising sophomores to be stuck with leftover options that do not always accommodate their living wishes and expectations. I am sure all first years can attest to the fact that this year has already been incredibly difficult, so Penn’s policies, which create more disappointing news, are completely uncalled for. Not only have first-years missed out socially on their entire first semester of college and endured a full year of online classes, but many are now stuck with unfavorable housing thanks to Penn.

With the housing lottery, each student is assigned a randomized time slot to select their housing. They are encouraged to plan roommate arrangements in advance, and the individual with the earliest time slot can select the room for all roommates. 

Despite making roommate arrangements, many students I spoke with discovered that the only rooms left could not accommodate their desired number of residents. This led to many desperate roommate split-ups and forced many students to live with people they do not know at all. Not only was this completely unfair, this was also incredibly disappointing for many students, including Tanna, who was unable to live with her original roommates. 

“At the end of the weeklong process my roommates and I still didn’t have a room, and we were randomly assigned after going through all the last minute stresses of finding new roommates since there were no rooms available for us during our time slots,” she said. 

In addition, there were many technical difficulties on the primary housing site, MyHomeAtPenn. Many students were forced to wait extended periods of time before the site would load, defeating the purpose of even having a time slot. Some of those who reached out to Student Residential Services, including myself, received little advice except to simply refresh the page and wait for it to load. Being told that I had no choice but to sit around and wait while the housing options became more and more limited was a frustrating response to hear during such a stressful time.

“Our group definitely had a disappointing time slot, and on top of that we couldn’t even access the site until 20 minutes after our slot opened due to the website crashing,” said College first year Aakaash Margam. “Now our group of four is in a 3-bedroom high rise, and we’ve been trying to literally pay people to trade them for a 4-bedroom, but no luck.” The fact that students are willing to spend even more money to reverse an arrangement they have been put in by their own school is extremely upsetting. 

Another first year could not even select housing as her and her roommates’ time slots all conflicted with an important athletic event. They responsibly contacted SRS days in advance with their top six housing selections, but did not receive a response until 15 minutes before housing completely closed. Instead of receiving one of the options requested, they were told that they could not be placed anywhere and “fill-a-bed” was their only option. In this situation, their roommate group would be split up and each individual would move into any open bedroom on campus, therefore living with strangers. 

Furthermore, the lottery system fails to consider those with financial barriers. Nursing first year Oulaya Louaddi, who identifies as first generation, low-income, recalls feeling “cornered,” as there were not many options economically feasible for her and her roommates due to the change in room rates in certain buildings and room setups. 

“Even when we made our list of buildings we hoped to get a spot in, it became clear as the ‘move to another building’ days went on that we would not be able to get our first, second, or even third options. Seeing other students who claimed units and looked for people to fill them after and others making side deals for better rooms made us feel even more isolated. The system doesn’t keep FGLI students in mind at all, and even though we could have gotten a quad in a building we wanted, we couldn’t because it would have cost us too much,” Louaddi said. 

Due to the unfortunate events resulting from the housing process, current first-year students feel helpless and frustrated. While there will never be a perfect housing system to satisfy everyone, Penn must improve theirs to accommodate the needs and desires of their students. 

“The time slot system is moronic,” College first-year Chapin Lenthall-Cleary said. “Rather than making students select rooms at specific times, they could just have each student input a list of preferences and use an algorithm to optimally match students to rooms.” This method would be similar to the system used for class registration. This is also randomized, making it a fair system to maximize students’ preferences. Furthermore, establishing a more responsive and attentive Residential Services is a simple fix that would substantially decrease students’ stress and confusion. 

If Penn wants sophomores to live on campus so badly, the least they could do is provide adequate, affordable, and accessible housing selection options. 

EMILY CHANG is a College first year studying Sociology from Holmdel, N.J. Her email address is changem@sas.upenn.edu.

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