The Office of Residential Living altered the housing selection process for students studying abroad this fall, shifting housing applications six months forward to March and giving students the option to have semester-long unfilled vacancies in housing groups.

“Ultimately we wanted to lay out spring housing options for fall study abroad students,” Executive Director for Residential Services Patrick Killilee wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Not all students who go abroad will be able to get the exact housing they desire, but we hope to be transparent in our processes and provide students housing they are comfortable with.”

Affected students were informed of the changes in an email sent Tuesday by Killilee and Assistant Director for Assignments Krista Haxton. The changes are the latest installment in a yearlong series of back-and-forth between the Office of Residential Living and students pushing for greater flexibility in housing options.

Other than requesting a vacancy, fall study abroad students can request to take the place of any student they know will study abroad in the spring, request international students to fill their spaces in an apartment or townhouse for the fall semester, apply to fill a vacancy in a living learning community or apply for spring housing by indicating their top housing preferences and optionally requesting a roommate.

The Office of Residential Life made a change to the housing rules in January 2014 that would have barred fall study abroad students from participating in the normal housing lottery. However, a student-led campaign against the rule change garnered around 400 signatures, leading to a one year postponement of the rule.

This past January, Will Simons (COL ’16) created a Facebook petition rallying against the proposed changes. Simons is the same student who led the previous year’s effort to delay the rule change, alongside Declan Kelly (COL ’17) and Ken Nunnenkamp (MSB ’16). A subsequent IdeaScale petition created by the trio in early February garnered over 540 signatures.

Although fall study abroad students will still be unable to participate in the regular housing lottery, they will be able to apply for a vacancy from the Office of Residential Living, which will allow housing groups to participate in the regular main campus housing selection process and keep an empty space for the duration of the fall semester while a student studies abroad.

“But those groups aren’t binding,” Simons said of the vacancy process. “So those can be changed. However, you can only request up to two vacancies. You still need to have at least one other person to enter the lottery with you, and then that would assume that you’re receiving both of those vacancies.”

Seventy-four students requested vacancies for next year through an online application due Thursday, according to Killilee. The number of applicants is lower than the cap set by the Office of Residential Living, so all of those vacancies will be approved after the Office of Residential Living verifies that the applicants are studying abroad in the fall.

The new vacancy option for students will essentially replace the current system of sophomores “filling in” for juniors studying abroad in the fall.

“[H]aving over 200 sophomores hold space for a semester is not conducive to the kind of community development we wish to offer our students,” Killilee wrote. “It is disruptive to the students having to change rooms, ultimately it is better for students to be in the same room and community for a full year. Many sophomores are not ready for that level of independent living and it can be alienating for some.”

Students were only given about 36 hours to apply for vacancies, however, causing a number of students, such as Danny O’Brien (MSB ’17) to change prior plans and feel rushed in the process.

“There was definitely overall confusion,” O’Brien, who has two apartment members studying abroad in the fall, said. “Our original plan had just been to get freshmen for a semester until our friends going abroad would come back. And basically we found out in one email that that wasn’t an option.”

Despite this, students and the Office of Residential Living are working to develop a more long-term solution to the issue through the creation of a working group in early February. According to Killilee, the new study abroad housing rules will be subject to regular inspection, with help from the working group.

Simons said he hopes the working group can find a permanent solution to address student need.

“Going forward, we’re going to use this working group that was kind of hastily created and is still in the process of being formalized to develop a long-term solution,” Simons said.

Though Killilee said that the IdeaScale petition did not influence any of the final housing options for next year, he did say that it shows student anxiety about the whole process.

Simons, on the other hand, said he believes that the student movement for more housing options for study abroad students is a demonstration of the power students have to shape their university.

“I think it really shows that students, when they come together, when they are passionate about an issue, they really have the power to enact meaningful change,” Simons said. “Even something that’s set in stone, students can change. And ultimately we have the power to shape our own experience at Georgetown.”

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