Time and time (and time…and time…) again, this university asserts its blatant disregard for its low-income students. Whether it’s expressed through university policies or echoes that the administration’s hands are tied, it becomes more aggressive every semester I’m here. Last week was the most recent display: a year of free housing was raffled off at a basketball game. I think we can all be happy for the student who won the raffle because housing in San Francisco is “tough” – that is, according to a comment about the prize made by SHaRE housing senior director Torry Broullard-Bruce; cruel or oppressive might prove more appropriate. I truly am happy for that student, and I wholly wish that my happiness for her was enough.
However, I can hardly articulate how it feels to have struggled at USF for almost four years to house myself. I’ve had to juggle housing and education. I’ve asked for help along the way, only to be met with resistance from each student resource. Words cannot describe what I felt when I walked into class to see, sprinkled about the desks, newspapers with the front page headline “Junior Wins One Year of Free Housing.”
In my time at this institution, I have been nearly homeless more than once. If it were not for my support systems, I don’t know what would have happened. I have taken two separate leaves of absences for financial reasons, because it is insufferable to work over 40 hours per week to barely scrape by and attend university at the same time. My financial aid package covers the immediate costs of my education here, which I am extremely grateful for. However, financial aid packages do not cover costs of housing unless there is a profound surplus of aid.
I know students who have been evicted from student housing mid-semester for missed payments. I know others who have taken leaves of absences from USF while living on campus. Even though they had already paid for a full semester of housing, they were evicted without getting any of their money back.
The lottery system itself leaves students in utter anxiety about housing, regardless of their financial backgrounds. But make no mistake, the lottery still favors middle and high income students. Who has the resources to secure housing while not in the city? To fly or drive back home over summer and tour apartments for the upcoming semester? Who can afford to wait until July for housing announcements to try and secure semi-affordable housing, in case they do not win the lottery? You guessed it – not us.
In a study conducted by The Equality of Opportunity Project, it was revealed that 7.1 percent of students at this university come from households that make less than $20,000 per year. Why not gift the free housing to them? Why not to someone who is struggling? These are students working themselves into the ground, trying to afford San Francisco rent at the same time as taking 16, or more, credit units. These same students often find themselves on academic probation, another class-biased and utterly useless “resource” for low-income students. “You need to put school before work” isn’t particularly hard hitting advice for students who will be homeless if they do so.
I do not know the girl who won the housing giveaway and I do not know her financial background. I am not suggesting that any of this has to do with her, personally. What I do know is that 50 percent of students here come from families who make over $110,000 per year – making it a 50 percent chance that the student who would win the giveaway would come from that money and a seven percent chance that they would come from less than $20,000 per year. To watch SHaRE just give away housing at random is no less than harrowing when there are students at this university who truly need it. This single event can be used as a mirror to understand USF’s overall negligence for their low-income students. The lottery system for housing at this university, too, does not factor in financial need.
Low-income students move through this institution in silence because the conditions here do nothing to make them believe that their voices will be met with any kind of compassion or solidarity. This university prides itself on social justice, but I have yet to experience anything of substance supporting this claim in the face of low-income students. I am calling on the administration of this university to cultivate an environment where their core values and mission statement align with their treatment of low-income students – in their own words, to fulfil “the full, integral development of each person and all persons, with the belief that no individual or group [or university] may rightfully prosper at the expense of others.”
Featured Photo: The housing lottery doesn’t account for need and can leave our most vulnerable students in bad situations. Hursh Harkhanis / Foghorn