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Movement to reform Brandeis housing emerges after DCL’s ‘blatant failure’

For the upcoming 2023-2024 academic year, the Brandeis Department of Community Living (DCL) is not currently guaranteeing housing to all of the students who received approved housing accommodations. Students with higher housing numbers are no longer guaranteed housing despite having approved accommodations for specific on-campus housing. 

Before housing accommodations are approved, a student must undergo the accommodation approval process. There are two components: the disability student request form and the medical care provider verification form. The disability student request form asks the student to list their disabilities (“What diagnosis/diagnoses/conditions are you requesting accommodations for?”) and justify why these disabilities are deserving of a housing accommodation (“Please tell us how your condition(s) affect(s) your daily living and provide as much detail as possible. If you are requesting accommodations for more than one condition, please describe the effects of each condition”). 

The medical care provider form must be sent to either the student’s doctor or a medical/mental health provider. Brandeis states that “Brandeis Counseling Center providers cannot complete the Provider Verification Form. Instead, they should submit letters describing the length of their relationship with you, your diagnosis if applicable, your disability symptoms, and how they impact you on campus.” The purpose of the medical care provider form is to verify the student’s disability or disabilities.

In all, this process can be time consuming. Further, the student may not receive all of the accommodations that have been requested. Having housing accommodations approved comes with a great sense of relief after the time intensive process. Therefore, learning that your approved accommodations can no longer be accommodated can be stressful, as a student who thought that their housing plans were confirmed for the upcoming year now must scramble and try to find a new place to live at the last moment.

Students who had confirmed housing accommodations likely did not form roommate groups, as with a housing accommodation (aside from if you get a corridor-style single), a student can only pull one other person in to live with them. The student is now at a disadvantage, where they have lost earlier opportunities to meet with their friends and make housing arrangementspotentially isolating the students with now-revoked housing accommodations from the rest of the community. 

In an interview with The Brandeis Hoot, Disabled Students’ Network Co-President Lyric Siragusa ’24 explained how she was impacted by DCL’s failure to provide housing accommodations to several students. She mentioned that she has “had housing accommodations for the past three years at Brandeis … [and] had never encountered any issues before this year. ” This year, though, Siragusa “was one of the 29 people who got ejected from accommodations” by DCL despite having her accommodations approved by Student Accessibility Services (SAS). Although Siragusa had a friend who could pull her into an acceptable room, she acknowledged that others weren’t so lucky. Unlucky students with no backup plans are now “scrambling to find somewhere, anywhere to live before they have to put down several thousands of dollars worth of deposits [on an off-campus living space].”

Siragusa hopes that, in the future, DCL can be more transparent. She added that “there have been a bunch of us [affected students and allies] who have been compiling data and hearing stories because … things didn’t line up. For example, my housing number is 2,459, I think. … I got denied my single in a suite, but somebody who had a worse number than me had a single no preference got it and got their options.” She noted that she wants “full transparency as to what’s actually going on behind their decisions,” because DCL’s notion that accommodations were handed out based on housing number does not appear to be true. She said that accommodations may have been based on “how visible somebody’s disabilities are.”

Siragusa also noted that some of the accommodations that were granted to students were subpar. She recalled “one person who had an accommodation [for the] ground floor because they can’t do stairs. One of the housing options that they got offered was on the second [or] third floor in a building that had an elevator. Fine, great for every day [use], not if there was a fire and the elevator shut down.” She hopes that DCL will “actually keep [their] word, not lie to us about what’s going on and let students in on the process. … [and] SAS needs to be more involved in this, because they’re the ones who actually have experience dealing with accommodations.”

In a separate interview with The Hoot, Bryn Zilch, ’24 expressed their concerns about the housing accommodations process. Although Zilch received their accommodations, they know several people who didn’t. They echoed Siragusa’s hopes, saying that they “wish [DCL had] communicated to us that this was a possibility. I also wish [DCL had] been more transparent about why they denied people housing [because] they keep claiming it’s numbers based but as one of the main people organizing the evidence about this, I have SO much proof that it’s not numbers based.”

Zilch added that DCL did not treat students with accommodations fairly, noting that “[DCL] promised housing and then said ‘oh actually [nevermind] no housing for you’ and started saying ‘well this could always happen and you knew this’ despite having never communicated this possibility to students. Their lack of transparency and sudden lack of options for disabled students has created so much stress for those people and is causing so many unfair burdens for disabled members of campus.” Zilch agrees with the demands expressed on the Reform Brandeis Housing Instagram account, and wants to know “what … the actual criteria for who got housing [was].”

In a separate interview with The Hoot, Samkyu Yaffe ’24, who is involved in the planning of an upcoming protest surrounding housing accommodations, echoed the demands made on the DCL Housing Hell website. They added that “What happened this year is frankly quite simply unethical … [because] disabled students deserve an equitable chance at housing,” and said “it’s not fair to disabled students to tell them ‘we’ll fit you in, maybe,’ and then leave them scrambling to find housing and relying on the charity of their friends to find somewhere to live.”

They also noted that they “want student representation” in the housing accommodations process, “because this is the sort of thing that frankly I can’t really see a disabled student signing on to.” Yaffe noted that they’re not aware of any student involvement in the housing accommodations decision process, and added that “it’s not a magic bullet that’s going to fix all our problems, but it’s certainly a start to have students involved in this process.”

Yaffe told The Hoot that there will be a protest to support the movement to reform Brandeis Housing on Friday. They added that “we’re doing this protest because at this point we’re done being gaslit. We’re done being, we’re done being lied to.” They also said that “if they can take housing away from [disabled students] without warning, … and leave us scrambling like this they can do it to other groups as well.”

In another interview with The Hoot, Ben Robertson ’25 said that he “was told after all of the numbers came out, that because of my number, my housing accommodations were no longer able to be used, and basically my housing accommodations were unapproved.” Robertson also added that he “wish[es that DCL] would’ve told us outright that because of our number we might not have been approved… We got an email saying accommodations were approved. Nowhere in the email did it say we might not get housing. There was nowhere saying, oh yeah, if you get a bad number, we’re just going to take you out of the accommodation process entirely.”

 Robertson noted that the email did say that the housing number would have an impact on which housing options would be available to choose from, but not that there was a chance that no housing options would be provided at all. Robertson was able to be pulled into a housing group last-minute after finding out that his accommodation-based housing was denied. Robertson thinks that the demands of the “Reform Brandeis Housing” petition should include that students should be notified “at the right time to seek-off campus housing. I think that’s probably one of the most important parts.” If Robertson had known “from the beginning [that he] might not have a choice about on-campus housing, I could have spent my time looking for [off-campus] apartments.” 

The “Reform Brandeis Housing” movement has become increasingly visible, with posters calling for “equity,” “transparency” and “accountability” in the housing process and noting a future protest appearing on campus. The poster adds that “Brandeis DCL has suddenly decided to take away many students’ disability accommodations, despite students’ reliance on them to properly attend college.” The poster disparages DCL for this “ableist decision,” and has a QR code where more information about the movement to reform Brandeis’ housing selection process can be found.

On the “DCL’s Housing Hell” website, which is linked to on the poster, visitors can find “a summary of the Brandeis University Department of Community Living (DCL)’s treatment of disabled students during the 2023 housing selection process, as well as more direct action you can take.” The website includes an overview of the housing selection process, a timeline of the problems that disabled students have experienced, and options for concerned community members to take action. The website also includes three demands. It asks DCL to: “Build more housing to accommodate the larger student body in the long-term, and create emergency housing, on campus, to accommodate any disabled students who still lack housing in the short-term,” “Guarantee, in writing, adequate accommodations for disabled students in accordance with their pre-approved housing accommodations” and “Full transparency of the DCL housing lottery system and additional student representative involvement during the planning stages.” 

As Brandeis’ annual housing selection process progresses, some students have found that the accommodations they requested were not fulfilled by Brandeis DCL. In a petition addressed to DCL, students note that they’re concerned about “the treatment of disabled students in the housing process at Brandeis University” and that DCL “has not been meeting students’ disability needs through the housing process.” More specifically, the petition notes that “disabled students are being suddenly denied accommodations for housing, accommodations that were previously promised to these students” and that DCL was not communicative about the lack of available accommodations. The petition has over 300 signatures at the time of writing.

Due to changes in the accommodations process, many students who requested accommodations did not receive them – these late changes “prevented disabled students from making the proper arrangements to seek off-campus housing alternatives” or “forming and/or joining housing groups with other students in the general selection process, which could have also alleviated this issue.” The petition adds that DCL’s communication with disabled students was made worse when “misleading information was provided about the prioritization of factors considered for disability accommodations in the housing process, as well as what disabled students could expect from this process.” The petition also notes that the accommodations that DCL does provide to students are often lackluster, as DCL claims that “ that elevator-accessible floors meet “ground-floor” accommodations for mobility-impaired students” and hosts “consistently poor” van service from housing that isn’t in the heart of Brandeis’ campus. The petition accuses DCL of violating both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) with this “unconscionable” accommodations procedure that is “reminiscent of the pre-ADA world.”

In an email to The Hoot, DCL’s Timothy Touchette, Brandeis’ Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, said that “as anticipated, every student who applied for housing and received housing accommodations from SAS has been offered a space in University Housing. Though juniors and seniors are not guaranteed housing, this year is an example of what typically happens each year in the room selection process.”

Elaborating, Touchette said that “Each student who received accommodations from SAS was entered into the corresponding room selection process. Rising juniors and seniors with accommodations receiving offers of housing as the housing selection process unfolds is routine, as it is dependent on a variety of variables and procedures that unfold during the room selection process. The process takes time.”

Responding to concerns about changing text on DCL’s website, Touchette noted that “Our website is dynamic, and we clarify the text and FAQs on our website as questions come into our office. The intent when updating this information is to be as transparent as possible so that students know what to expect.”

He also acknowledged that his office has “heard about a website and web forums circulating,” but noted that “Community Living has not been presented with a petition.” He added that “Community Living works hard to ensure that each student is accommodated through a housing selection process designed with equity and fairness in mind. Sometimes individual needs are unique and fall outside of the typical process and may require additional thought and time.”

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