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Many athletes were housed in Sansom Place West during winter break.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

As students flock back to campus for the start of the spring semester, most do so with a familiar home awaiting them. But for a select group, the process of returning from winter break was not so simple.

That group was Penn’s winter student-athletes, many of whom had to return to campus early for practices and games that took place while the rest of the student body was still away. In addition to having their break truncated, many were also unable to return to their typical campus homes. During the break, all but five of Penn’s on-campus dormitories shut their doors, leaving those who returned early frozen out.

“The housing situation was not good,” Samantha Hsiung, a freshman on the women’s fencing team, said. “I really don’t understand why they can’t just let us go back to [our] dorms for winter housing, instead of going to some random place.”

As a result of the dorm closures, Penn provided displaced student-athletes with temporary housing in Sansom Place West, a University-owned apartment building that once housed quarantined students at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Upon arriving at their temporary homes, some athletes encountered subpar living conditions, primarily regarding utility functionality and cleanliness. Hsiung reported that she and her teammates experienced a number of issues, including expired light bulbs, an unflushed toilet, clogged pipes, and a lock on the door to their suite bathroom. Hsiung also said that maintenance did not respond to her request for a new lightbulb until three days after her initial request. In total, Hsiung said four of her teammates elected to move out of the Sansom Place West housing, opting to pay out-of-pocket for a nearby hotel instead.

“It honestly felt like some jail cell,” Hsiung said of her housing situation at Sansom Place West.

In addition to the issues at Sansom Place West, Hsiung also noted the burden presented by athletes not being permitted to access their belongings in their normal rooms. Hsiung said she was forced to take many of her things, including her bedding, back with her to California, and paid a fee of $100 for the additional weight in her luggage. 

After returning to Penn, Hsiung alleges that the University enforced inconsistent policies on allowing students to access their dorms – while some were permitted to return and access their things, others, like Hsiung, were not granted access, preventing her from acquiring smaller items such as toilet paper, shower shoes, or her inhaler. 

“I expected to be able to go back to my room to get things just because all of these other people were able to get their things as well…” Hsiung said. "I think it's really unfeasible to expect all athletes to bring everything they need for housing back in their suitcase." 

Not every athlete had complaints about the situation at Sansom Place West or their ability to access their things. Women’s basketball sophomore forward Helena Lasic said that she “didn’t mind” the conditions in her temporary room, and that they were comparable to her normal living arrangements in DuBois College House. However, Lasic emphasized the inconvenient nature of the moving process as a whole, and said that the University’s rigidity on the matter was frustrating.

“I live in DuBois, and last year DuBois was open, so the fact that it was closed this year, I was kind of confused [and] upset,” Lasic said. “I had to move out [of Sansom Place West] this past weekend, and just – we were on the road, I have a work study, practice, this and that. Just them saying ‘Oh, here’s the move in-time,’ they weren’t too flexible about it. They weren’t allowing us to move out on different days based on what worked out for us. So I had to move my stuff out after practice, and I asked my coach to help me.”

In a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea Kruger said that out of the 143 students — 98 of whom were athletes — temporarily housed in Sansom Place West, the University was only officially notified of two issues with the facilities.

Kruger also provided a prior communication that was sent to all students informing them of the housing policies, writing: “Remember that you will no longer have access to your academic year room after Friday, December 22 at noon. Pack up any belongings that you will need for winter break, including bed linens, and remove them from your academic year room by this time.” Kruger also noted that in cases of emergency need, students were permitted to retrieve their belongings from the closed dorms while accompanied by a security escort.

All dorms were officially reopened for student access on January 13, five days prior to the start of classes on January 18.