On-campus housing: a work in progress

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Photo by Patrick Goodman

The motto of the University of Dallas is the imperative command to “Love truth and justice.” What happens when the students and  administration disagree on what justice means? To consider student housing a matter of justice may seem like an exaggeration, but sometimes the campus residency requirement can make the difference between students graduating from UD — or not.

The UD student handbook states that students are exempt from living on campus if they have earned 90+ credit hours, are 21 years of age, married, veterans or commuters who live with a parent or guardian within a 50-mile radius of the campus. 

Director of Student Affairs Seth Oldham said, “As I understand it, the age 21 requirement has been around for a long time.” Oldham said that the requirement is not tied to the legal drinking age.

From the UD website, the fall enrollment for 2018 was 1,471 undergraduate students. At full capacity, 43% of undergraduates cannot live on campus at a given time. “We have 837 beds on campus, give or take two or three depending on how many staff are living on campus at one time,” Oldham said. And while some students commute, many more come from out of city or state.

For the semester, a standard double room in Clark Hall costs $3,625 and the seven-day meal plan costs $2,930. “It’s next to impossible to make housing as affordable on campus as affordable as it is off campus. With that said, the rising cost of housing is a concern,” Oldham said. 

The housing contract on the UD website states that, “The Director of Student Affairs may also grant an exemption based on financial hardship or medical needs,” but that “students not approved for an exemption agree to be billed for UD Housing.” It is possible for a student to live off-campus before turning 21, but the university has the final say.

Rachel Gernhardt, who is a junior Politics and Classics major from Carrollton, applied for a financial exemption in the spring of 2019. Initially, she was  denied, but in early July received word that she was exempt and decided to move into a Tower Village apartment. 

The reason she decided not to live on campus was because it would have put a major financial strain on her. 

“I would have had to take out more loans, or would have had my parents or my family pay for more,” she said. “I had an older sibling who didn’t get that same payment for her housing her junior and senior year, she had to commute. So, that would have been really inequitable.” 

Gernhardt is active on campus and enjoys the community, which is why she wanted to live nearby. Additionally, by living in an apartment, she is learning responsibility, gaining independence and building her credit score. 

Dean of Students Julia Carrano said that the purpose of the residency requirement is to “integrate the academic life of the student with their social life and their moral life and their friendships.” The main barrier to fulfilling the residency requirement while still remaining true to the mission of the OSA is limited capacity. 

“We do have land, or we could purchase land to build a new residence hall, and I think that’s definitely open, people are open to that, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Carrano said. She also mentioned the great expense of construction as an issue. 

Because most people turn 21 during their junior year, the residency requirement can break up a   class significantly, with juniors spread throughout Clark Hall, the student apartments and Tower Village. 

“In many ways, it’s not ideal that students are broken up that way,” Carrano said. 

She hopes that there is a “way that we could have more housing that is reasonably cost that could help unite people as upperclassmen… something that they would want to do, not something that is going to make them feel like a freshman again.”

Senior Spanish major Brock Jameson discerned out of Holy Trinity Seminary in late July 2018, between his sophomore and junior year at UD. 

“I was under 21 years of age and I did not have 90 credit hours. I was advised by my financial aid advisor to apply for on-campus housing, simply because I didn’t qualify to move off.” 

Jameson contacted the Office of Student affairs directly and received an off-campus housing exemption for financial reasons. Jameson was told that on-campus housing was already near capacity. 

Although he was exempted, he expressed concerns for those who did not receive the exemption. “If your birthday is within one month of the deadline, I think that you should really get priority as far as being selected to live off-campus,” Jameson said. 

Senior Pastoral Ministry major Katie Groves went to Rome in fall 2018, during her junior year. Before she matriculated at UD, Groves knew about the age requirement. She was hopeful that she would get an exemption, however, since her birthday was five days after the start of the spring semester. 

Groves wrote an extensive exemption application, including specific financial figures comparing costs and explaining her situation. 

“My family also had an agreement where I would be the one paying my own living expenses after I turned 21,” Groves said. 

Despite Groves’ efforts, her application was denied. “Because I was moving in from Rome mid-year, there were no student apartments.” When she asked her parents how to proceed, Groves said they told her, “We can pay it, but your dad just lost his job, mom just lost her job. FAFSA looks at previous year, so it won’t show any of that. So, that’s an issue.” Groves ended up living in Clark Hall during her spring semester.

In addition to the cost problem, Groves was left in an awkward social situation. “I was intending on living in an apartment with one of my friends and a couple of other people. When I got denied, another other girl who I was going to be living with also got denied. And then it left the other girl to have to scramble,” Groves said. 

Although the Office of Student Affairs tries to help students, Oldham said that “No one would say that our housing situation is perfect.” The university has rules by which it abides. When students become financially compromised due to those rules, the question remains whether they are just or not.  

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