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Monday, April 15, 2024
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Opinion: American University is failing their off-campus students

Off-campus students are still entitled to resources and support, especially in emergencies

Living off-campus is a rite of passage for many college students. While off-campus living may be a step towards independence, American University has an obligation to their off-campus students that goes beyond the support they are currently giving, especially in times of crisis or displacement. 

My roommates and I were displaced from our off-campus apartment due to a severe kitchen fire in August. The semester had just started and we needed somewhere to live for an extended period of time. We immediately contacted the Dean of Students, as their Office’s purpose is to aid and “advocate” for students in times of need. We were three displaced University students, two of whom did not have family nearby for assistance. 

I naively anticipated that some portion of the thousands of dollars paid to the University would be of use to accommodate students who have nowhere else to go. Instead, we were told by the Dean of Students Office, albeit kindly, that the only option that the University could assist us with was going to the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter in Southeast D.C. This reaction appalled me. The University, which made nearly 800 million dollars in 2021, would rather their students take a bed away from a woman who is unhoused or fleeing domestic violence, than provide a spare residence hall room through emergency housing or a hotel room for a few nights. 

The lack of emergency housing also impacts students who test positive for the coronavirus. Neither they nor their roommates are given temporary housing accommodations, even if they are immunocompromised. Not only does the University no longer offer this alternate housing, but they evidently also lack the resources to provide emergency housing for rare situations like an off-campus fire. The University provided us with virtually no options.

The University was also reluctant to lend support in terms of access to meals or food in general. Being displaced not only meant nowhere to stay, but it also meant losing our groceries and a place to cook. The Dean of Students Office advised us to seek assistance from The Market, the food pantry on campus. The Market is an excellent resource for students facing food insecurity, however, there are a few issues with suggesting this as the only option for students who don’t have access to a kitchen. 

For one, the day we were advised to seek out the food pantry, we were not even in the state because without University assistance, our only option was to return home. The pantry would also not even be open until two days after we were told to use it. Secondly, without a kitchen, we could only rely on non-perishable food items that have little to no cooking involved as our main food source from the pantry. Additionally, The Market’s purpose is clearly stated to be a “supplemental source of food, not a primary source” and is limited to one bag of food per week. This is a valuable tool for students who cannot always make ends meet with their meal plan or grocery budget but is not a sufficient or “primary” food source for students who have no other way to obtain meals — other than eating out — which is simply unaffordable. 

Thankfully, because a faculty member in the School of Public Affairs reached out to us and offered his assistance, the OneCard Office and AU Dining provided us with temporary meal plans. This should not have been something that we had to lobby for.

Moving off-campus should not mean that students cannot rely on University resources, especially in times of turmoil. This is not the first time, and will not be the last time, that an off-campus student experiences a displacing event. There must be ample emergency housing options that do not include resorting to shelters for women fleeing violence or homelessness — not for students who deserve to rely on their University. I implore the University to not abandon students simply because they seek the more affordable off-campus housing option. 

Alice Still is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communication and a columnist for The Eagle. 

This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Sarah Clayton and Charlie Mennuti.

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