The University of Hawai'i's housing renewal system has always been far from perfect in the eyes of students. Before students left their dorms last spring, those planning to renew went through a new renewal process. Normally, students would submit a housing application and go to the housing office to choose a lottery number themselves. Based on that number students were able to pick their housing. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we were assigned randomized numbers sent through our emails and had to watch housing employees on a live stream choose our lottery numbers themselves. After that lengthy process, due to the uncertainties of COVID-19, many students were given no choice but to wait for an email. Student housing left students in the dark until mid-June. Students that requested to live in the two main buildings for renewal housing (Frear Hall and Gateway) were told they would be placed in Hale Wainani, Hale Anuenue, or not given housing at all.
Last Thursday, UH's Provost Michael Bruno answered many of the community's questions via a live Youtube broadcast. The broadcast lasted two hours and I sat through all of it, where I found the live chat section more helpful than the actual Provost. He announced that all freshmen would be prioritized for housing then returning students. He made the decision due to campus tours and orientations being canceled, freshmen would be more vulnerable this upcoming semester. It is heartbreaking to hear as a returning student that there is a high chance I will not be able to live on campus. I cannot speak for all returning students, but for my own case, I was left angry, anxious, and sad. So here is the perspective of a returning student.
Freshmen got their senior years taken away so why should they have to miss out on a "traditional college experience" too?
I am sorry they did not get to traditionally graduate and my heart goes out to them. To say they deserve priority, I don't agree with because how will it be a "traditional" college experience when most classes are online. Most freshmen will take general education, or GE, classes which will mainly be online. There is little to no reason for most freshmen to be physically on campus. It is unfair that because of one inconvenience to them, that all other students must relinquish what little we have.
"Renewal students are older and can simply find an apartment off-campus."
It is not cheap to live in Hawai'i, especially in town near the university. With COVID-19 still an issue, many students do not want to use public transportation. For my personal situation, it is easier for me to live on campus because I am on loans with the university and cannot afford to pay for an off campus apartment out of pocket. Many of the students not receiving housing happen to be from the mainland and do not have cars to commute to and from school. Students also choose to live on campus to avoid the commute due to O'ahu's heavy traffic. There are many factors that come with looking for somewhere to live, with the amount of time we are given and the extra precautions due to the ongoing pandemic, it is much more difficult.
"They're putting renewal students in Hale Wainani and Hale Anuenue, so there are dorms reserved for returning students."
Most students from neighboring islands received housing and only a few from the mainland were chosen. They prioritized students from neighbor islands and then based selection on lottery numbers drawn four months ago rather than need-based. Many mainland students, like me, have in-person classes but nowhere to live. Students that also work on campus are now left jobless since there is little to no chance for us to return on island. Certain classes, such as labs, cannot be taken online, causing many students to delay their college plans and even graduation. The university was too negligent to find out which students needed to be on campus and instead shoved freshmen and random renewal students into dorms they may not even need.
"If I don't accept housing this semester then it will be harder to get housing next semester."
Many students are having a hard time now because the whole summer they believed their housing contract would get renewed. However, the university is making us all scramble to find apartments and rooms-for-rent in the next few weeks before the semester starts. Adding to the fact that we cannot physically be there to look at these living spaces and are left to choose blindly and hope for the best. Whereas those who do not need to dorm this semester, have months to find an apartment or off-campus housing. There are students losing classes, jobs, and opportunities just because you chose to take a dorm you do not need.
"If you're so upset why not just complain to housing?"
It is not up to housing on how they selected who they chose to give housing to. They were given instruction by the university and went off of that. I am upset that returning students were not deemed a priority to be on campus. I am upset that there are many tenants taking housing away from students that need it over them. I am upset that I have to lose my job and classes I need because I have nowhere to live since on-campus housing was the most affordable option. I am upset that for months the university left us in the dark then told us we are not a priority.
"Most classes are online, so if freshmen can stay home you can too."
While it is great that they are offering more classes online to minimize exposure, not all classes are online. Some classes are still requiring students to come in and many of those classes may be critical to their graduation or degree. Additionally, as we all saw last semester, many students do not learn well in an online class, so why would we pay the same amount of money just to fail. The two situations are different because these returning students are committed to UH and have little to no choice but to return to UH this semester. It is not simple to transfer to a local college, due to the possibility of previous credits being lost, so students are now forced to pay a ridiculous amount to take classes they could take in their home state. The school announced that tuition would not be lowered, so it is unjust that the same students that pay significantly more are also declined housing.
This housing process has been irresponsible on the university's part. The whole decision to open in general is reckless, but to force students to return to school and not provide housing to returning students that have invested a lot into this university, is ridiculous. Now I am left possibly jobless, homeless, and classless. With only a few weeks before the semester begins, I am left with little to no choices. I could lose my job on campus since I cannot be there physically. I could spend a fortune out of pocket to find an apartment near campus within the next few weeks. I could completely defer for a semester, which would affect my loans, graduation date, and an outside opportunity eligibility. This is just one homeless UH Mānoa student's struggle now, just imagine the hundreds of others. Was it just a cash grab to entice students that have no commitment to the school to commit? Was it because they are limiting the number of mainland students to return? We won't know, but what I do know is that due to the negligence from the University of Hawai'i towards their returning students, hundreds of students like myself could lose their source of income and even delay graduation dates.
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