Students at Barnard College have called on their school to open up housing during winter break, and say the school’s advice of house-sitting or living with friends isn’t realistic for low-income or international students.
A Change.org petition started over the weekend had received nearly 1,300 signatures on Monday afternoon.
“The Administration’s response to students has, so far, been suggestions to find somewhere to “house-sit,” or maybe “live with friends.” For students who have considered and researched these options, these suggestions serve only as a reminder that the Barnard Administration is ignorant of the reality of their situations,” the petition reads.
The students are asking for the school to “formally acknowledge the fact that they have ‘homeless’ and ‘housing insecure’ students,” “provide affordable or subsidized winter housing for all students who request it” and “provide funding for housing to students who say they need it.”
Ame Diarietou Fall, 20, who grew throughout West Africa and whose family lives in Senegal, said though she works as a nanny and French tutor, she can’t afford to fly back home for winter break.
“My other option is to save enough to go to D.C. and stay with friends,” Fall said. “That’s taking money out of my pocket, that I need to save just to eat and buy clothes and toiletries and live on campus.”
Fall said last year the school opened up a room to her for one night when she missed a flight, but didn’t turn on the heat or provide bedding.
“It’s very stressful, and always in the back of your mind … not even during winter break, but during fall break, any break — it just feels like the resources aren’t there and as an international student, it’s quite lonely, and when you’re really far away from your family and you have to support yourself, it’s even more of a strain.”
Toni Airaksinen, a Barnard College sophomore who helped launch the Columbia Campus Confessions page earlier this year, said a small group of students and professors are “not just fighting for a place to stay but an intrinsically stable place for students to spend their winter break.”
Airaksinen, who had been planning to stay on campus during the break, said administrators have been whittling down the number of days students can stay in the dorms over the last few years, and this year has limited housing to “mission critical” students, such as tour guides and athletes.
Winter housing is available across the street at Columbia University, according to the univesity’s housing website.
Anna O’Sullivan, director of media relations at Barnard, said limited winter housing began in 2012, and has been reduced since then.
The Columbia Spectator preiously reported the housing cuts were due to funding and staffing constraints and construction.
O’Sullivan said 18 students were in the dorms last winter break.
“At Barnard College, the health and well-being of our students is paramount. We are a small community that prides itself on being attentive and responsive to the needs of our students. At no time would we ever turn a student away who does not have a safe place to reside,” O’Sullivan wrote in an email to Metro.
O’Sullivan said about 12 students have asked the Dean’s Office for housing help, and the school is working directly with students who do not have winter break housing.