Winter Housing Art

College students have a lot on our plates these days. At this point, it's basically the fourth round of a Valentino’s buffet, way past the salad bar, up to our neck in pepperoni pizza and baked ziti. We wash it down with a glass of global pandemic. We save a little room for a homemade controversial election for dessert.

As much constant chaos we’ve seen as a campus, we’ve perhaps seen more changes here, from the installation of rather aggressive sanitizing stations to a university-wide face covering mandate. Still, the changes to this year’s academic schedule reign supreme as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s most drastic alteration, an understandable attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep students from traveling.

For the most part, UNL has tried to give students proper opportunities through this change, allowing them to take special courses throughout the winter interim period. However, one major aspect of the college experience has not provided an adequate solution for students.

This winter, on-campus residents must make a decision about their housing based on mediocre and insufficient options. Students deserve far better than the options available, and they deserve transparency and clarity from University Housing.

From any angle, the interim housing options hold some huge consequences. First, students can opt to continue living in University Housing — for a hefty price. Between the high prices for the room itself and the required extra meal plan for students (who will reside in traditional/suite halls), most on-campus students will spend well over $1000 dollars to stay for 6 weeks. 

Unfortunately, the cheaper options hold other disadvantages. Myself and many of my peers have picked the second option — storage. As said by University Housing, students who will return in the spring but do not wish to pay for interim housing can store their belongings in their room during the break. However, this option gets messy. First, there’s a $150 per month storage fee, which the university claims “helps ensure we know which students intend to return in the spring,” even though students who don’t intend to return must go through the formal process of cancelling their housing contract. The fee also covers utilities and staffing to secure the building, even though seven lines later in the text, Housing removes itself from all responsibility for the security of student belongings. 

But of course, if you don’t like these options, you can leave. Literally. UNL’s third interim option is to avoid the fees by packing up your belongings and moving back into a room in late January. Granted, it may not be the same room, as the university will not guarantee students their previous room if they leave. 

Not only does this decision put the few relationships students have had the opportunity to form during this year’s chaos in jeopardy, but, this option is disproportionately difficult for students whose hometowns are beyond a convenient distance. Therefore, these students, many of whom already pay out-of-state tuition, are forced to hand over some extra cash regardless of their preferences.

These options show some obvious pitfalls for on-campus students. However, they are not isolated mistakes on behalf of University Housing. Talk to students on campus and it will not take you long to find horror stories about the department — extra fees, lost bills or overall miscommunication. 

I spoke to Tucker Hazell, a sophomore from Austin, Texas who called Housing after receiving a surprise $1200 fee on his student bill. The department failed to give him a reason yet refused to retract the fee, and Hazell ultimately paid it to avoid a hold on his account.

I had my own run-in with the department last year, when my emails about a room status went unanswered for days and when I showed up in person at the department office, I was turned away.

The truth is, even if University Housing genuinely cares about the well-being of their residents, its lack of clarity at every turn should leave a bitter taste in the mouth of every UNL student.

For instance, the department seems to seek anonymity in a way unique from the rest of campus. While most UNL mass emails feature department heads, advisors or even Chancellor Ronnie Green himself, housing emails always come from the department as an entity. 

This alone is insignificant, but what about the lack of major staff on the Housing website? The site highlights residence directors and assistants but who are the decision makers? A Google search finally led me to a 2018 campus news release about the housing director, but I’m still not completely sure who heads the department responsible for thousands of my dollars every year. That is a problem.

Another source of concern is in Housing’s ability to bury important information in an almost devious manner. Remember my discussion about the winter interim billing rates? Well, directly above that chart is an inconspicuous statement announcing an anticipated 3-5% rate increase for the 2021-2022 school year. This is, for the lack of a more articulate word, incredibly shady. Students deserve to have information like this — crucial when deciding their housing options for next year — easily available, not hidden in the depths of the Housing webpage. 

Let’s be honest — the argument formed above can be easily reduced to the mere whining of entitled college kids. We can spend hours going back and forth about “sucking it up” and “taking the responsibility” and whatever other three-word phrases we can stack on the argument like Jenga blocks. 

But more than honest, let’s be serious. The students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are grateful for their opportunity to pursue higher education. At the same time, it is our duty to ensure we receive the quality of education that we deserve. As paying customers to the university, it will always be within our jurisdiction to challenge the institution to honor our time and energy. 

All in all, the lack of transparency and clarity from University Housing, especially approaching our winter interim period, is not sufficient for our educational environment. The students of UNL deserve the respect and enthusiasm of any proper business exchange, especially in the uncertain times of COVID. College students have too much on our plates to have extra fees and ambiguity shoved down our throats. We will bite back.

Emma Krab is a sophomore English and journalism major. Reach her at emmakrab@dailynebraskan.com.