Student Perspective: Winter Break Housing Insecurity is Real
As fall comes to a close, the halls of Furman are bustling with events and important reminders. The winter holidays are approaching, and excitement fills the air. But for some students, this time of year is anything but exciting.
Outside the classroom, many of us on Furman’s campus spend our time building our so-called “home away from home.” However, when the semester ends, we are expected to return to our “real” homes and families. The difficulty of that transition is rarely talked about, and for students who have dysfunctional families and need on-campus housing over breaks, navigating Furman’s policies and procedures can be unrewarding.
After my family told me that I could not come home for Christmas this year, I came face-to-face with housing insecurity. Seeing a friend receive special permission to stay on campus over break for similar reasons last year, I felt that this option was my only hope of having somewhere to stay for the Winter. A couple weeks before the break, I approached Housing with my request, which was forwarded to the Winter housing committee. I was told that I would have an answer by the end of the week. A week passed, and I still had no answer. I began to get anxious: how was I supposed to focus on preparing for finals when I didn’t know where I would be living when they were over?
To my fortune, Student Success reached out to me and requested that I come in for a meeting. However, when I explained my situation to them, they informed me that all students who request to stay over Winter Break have to go through a vetting process, which involves calling the student’s parents to confirm the information that they have received. This element of the process confused me; why did they want to talk to my parents? I was assured that it was just to make sure “we’re all on the same page.” They asked me whether I had anywhere else I could go if housing was denied. I stopped and thought: Maybe if I ask one of my friends from high school I can stay with her. So I reply, 'potentially yes, but I don't know.’
We were approaching the final days before Winter Break and I finally got another email from housing, which stated, “Your request was denied.” When I reached back out to ask why, I was told that, because I had said that my friend might take me in if they denied my request, I could not stay in winter housing, because winter housing is “intended to be for those students who literally have nowhere else to go.” My friend was my last resort, but at that point I had no idea if I actually could stay with her. When my friend ended up allowing me to stay for the break, I was fortunate to have found a last minute solution, but I know of others who, every time a break rolls around, fail to.
Housing has many policies that are very clear. For example, when moving out, you are clearly told to make sure to unplug the fridge and put a towel in the freezer, among other things. The winter housing policies lack this same clarity and, therefore, require revision. To start, there is no mention of the winter housing policies in the official student handbook; everything I heard was by word of mouth. Second, the vetting process assumes that a student is not telling the truth and ignores their privacy by requiring a student’s parents to be called, despite the fact that the majority of Furman students are over the age of 18. And finally, the policy is ignorant of the variety of reasons that a student may not be in communication with their parents: for example, physical and mental abuse or refusal to accept a student’s LGBTQ+ identity are significant reasons a student may not be able to contact family. If a student isn’t talking to their parents, it is for a reason, and this requirement can prevent a student from successfully completing the vetting process even when they have no housing options besides remaining on campus over break.
There are several things I have been doing to cope with my lack of a homelife during breaks. I have been reminding myself that I am not a burden and my friend would not have allowed me to stay at her house if she didn’t want to. I have also found ways to maintain community with my friends; for example, I am helping organize Facetime calls with my fraternity so I feel less alone. But overall, I have to remember that breaks are only so long and that I'll be able to return to Furman soon.
Housing is such an integral part of the college experience and more should be done to reduce the stress students who do not have access to reliable housing face at the end of the semester. No student should have to worry about where they are going to sleep outside of the academic year.