Concerns over housing selection for students studying abroad

Students studying abroad in the 2023-2024 academic year have expressed concerns over the new housing system, which will assign roommates and rooms with limited agency on the part of the students. The new system by Residential Housing will be continuously reviewed to meet best practices, according to Director of Residential Education and Housing Steph Knoppa. 

As stated by Knoppa, those studying abroad in Fall Term will be placed by Residential and Education Housing based on room availability and the preferences listed in student’s housing application at a time closer to when they return. These students will be unable to participate in the housing lottery, and sophomore Elizabeth Rienstra notes this will mean students are unable to choose where they are placed and who they are placed with upon returning. 

Those going abroad in Winter Term will be able to choose their room and roommates through the housing lottery as usual for Fall Term, but their spot is not guaranteed upon returning for Spring Term and is likely to have been filled by someone else. Similar to students going abroad in Fall Term, they will be placed according to room availability and preferences. 

Knoppa stated that to her understanding, this is similar to what was done in the past. The system was changed during COVID, as the viability of international travel and some programs was uncertain, so the system was modified so that all students were allowed to enter the housing lottery. However, it is now relatively similar to the pre-COVID system, with modifications to better support the majority of students. 

“Very quickly after I arrived at Lawrence University, I heard from students regarding their concerns about the housing selection process, and I took that feedback into account when creating the current process,” said Knoppa. “The current process is a step in the right direction that is in line with some of the best practices used by similar institutions across the nation.” 

It has also, however, raised frustration in students, according to Rienstra. Students going abroad during Winter Term are likely to be replaced and assigned a new roommate for Spring Term, and requests for switching roommates will only be allowed in week three of the term because of intake, the process of verifying that students are on campus and staying in their assigned rooms. 

According to Knoppa, if an individual wants to live with someone going abroad, Residential Education will make every effort to place the desired roommate in that room when they return; however, this is not guaranteed. Another student may be placed in that space prior to the return of the student studying abroad. 

Should a roommate be assigned, students will be unable to force that person to leave, although requesting to leave or switch out of the room will still be an option. This process, Rienstra notes, will also mean those with roommates leaving in Winter or Spring Term will be unable to choose their new roommate. 

“I think it’s stressful for the people who are going to have people randomly placed in their rooms and for the people who are going to randomly be placed,” said Rienstra.