“. . . Having a roof above my head is all I care about right now,” gasped Surabhi Kannappan as she was finally assigned a room nine hours after returning to campus. Following hours of confusion, running between three different dorms and the physical plant, and reaching out to 4 different people, on top of the 18-hour flight from India, Kannappan was finally able to settle in the 4th room assigned to her that day.
Kannappan’s situation represents a small, yet significant, portion of student experience with on-campus housing for this year. The Quest reached out to Sage Rhiannon Doane, a junior English major, who was one of the people who had to go through the series of anxiety and uncertainty surrounding on-campus housing this year. Doane was assigned housing during the first rollout of housing in spring but did not receive housing the second time the decisions were released.
The Quest spoke to Kirstie Opel, the former Residence Life (ResLife) operations coordinator and the person central to the housing assignments this year, to discuss the causes of this “great debacle.” Opel, who left Reed last Friday, started her position as the ResLife operation coordinator in January this year. Two months following her hiring, she realized that due to the undisclosed absence of the director of ResLife Clea Taylor, she was doing the “job of Assistant Director and/or director under the operation’s title,” as noted to her then by the co-director of ResLife, Julia Nicholson.
In the beginning of March, as the housing applications were about to open, Opel was still getting to know the names of the residence halls. However, because of the absence of the director Clea Taylor, the sole responsibility of housing assignment fell on Opel, “I was not hired for that [role], I did not [even] know the system.” Opel further noted that the co-director Julia Nicholson, who was offering her support, was also new to the whole process, “She [Julia] did housing education . . . didn’t do the actual housing. So it was all new to her as well.”
There are a total of 1115 on-campus housing spots open to students, housing advisors, and language scholars. Residence life is dedicated to offering guaranteed on-campus housing to all freshmen and sophomores. The on-campus housing assignments for students are done through StarRez, a third-party residence management platform, under the supervision and leadership of ResLife. The majority of housing assignments through StarRez are done through a process called Auto Allocation. After the ResLife liaison manually assigns hundreds of “constraints” such as friend groups, no contact orders, and DAR accommodations, the auto allocation assigns housing to students based on parameters such as gender preference, dorm selection, academic year, and lifestyle preferences. Historically, the process has been overseen by ResLife director Clea Taylor. But due to her absence, Nicholson and Opel were playing Taylor’s role without much documentation on the proceedings. A few weeks after the processing of housing applications started, Nicholson left for an eight-week medical leave, leaving most of the process to Opel.
The first signs of disaster came when, following the closure of the housing portal, students realized that the housing process had already started but no one was informed by ResLife. Unlike in previous years, no communication was sent to the student body regarding the opening of the housing portal on March 1st. Opel later noted to the Quest that due to their lack of prior experience, both she and Julia didn’t realize the necessity of the announcement. On April 14, ResLife sent an email to the student body announcing the postponement of the housing assignments decision which were due on April 15, due to staffing shortages. On April 21, a day before the decisions were promised to be released, ResLife sent an email asking students who were not able to apply for housing to fill out a google form requesting to be added to the waitlist.
The first major blow to the process came on Friday, April 22. Opel recalls finishing the review of the housing assignments in less than 48 hours and sending them out at 5 PM. A few minutes after she reached home, she realized that something went wrong, “. . . between 5 to 10 PM, ResLife received over 300 emails” from students who were unable to see their housing assignments, upperclassmen who were placed in freshman dorms, and friend groups who weren’t placed together. There were also some Housing Advisors that were unable to get housing while being hired for the position. Because it was already past the business hours, Opel wasn’t able to receive support from either StarRez or administration at that point, “It was only me . . sitting at home apologizing and explaining to each student.” When asked why she didn’t wait till Monday to respond to this situation, Opel added, “It didn’t sit right with me. I wanted students who were worried about their housing to know that this was a mistake, and we’ll do our best to correct it.”
On April 26, after realizing the enormity of the mistake, ResLife announced that they would revert all the housing decisions and fix everything before May 6th. This generated a new wave of anxiety amongst upperclassmen like Doane who were assigned housing but were unsure whether they would be able to retain it.
On May 6th, ResLife released corrected housing. Some of the previous mishaps were still present but this time they were able to address most of the mistakes. Opel confirmed that ResLife is presently dedicated to accommodating student requests for room changes and offering to house to upperclassmen who are still interested in on-campus housing.
ResLife reached out to Doane with an on-campus housing offer, but Doane had already submitted their safety deposit to their present residence at that point. Doane currently lives in a house within 50 minutes’ walking distance of Reed. When asked to reflect on their experience with on-campus housing this year, they added, “At first, I was feeling lucky, then when I lost housing, I was feeling less lucky . . . but ResLife was doing their best, their communication was poor, but it’s very easy to have poor communication and not realize it, so I’m sympathetic to the office.”