After inconsistent communication from the Georgetown University Office of Residential Living and the Academic Resource Center (ARC), Ollie Henry (CAS ’24) was left without university-provided accommodation housing shortly before move-in day last fall, resulting in them having to sleep on a friend’s couch for six weeks while searching for an apartment.
“There was no point at which I had someone checking in on my well-being. Technically, for those six weeks, I was experiencing homelessness because I didn’t have a permanent address,” Henry said in an interview with The Hoya. “So it was really that lack of knowledge, care and compassion that really struck me the most out of all of it.”
Henry experiences panic attacks, which can be triggered by sounds, smells and other factors. The unpredictable environment of dorm-style housing can often magnify their triggers and make it difficult to decompress, they said.
Henry said that despite being reassured several times in person and over phone calls that the Office of Residential Living could grant their requested accommodations, they never received their housing accommodations and now lives in an apartment off campus.
“Throughout this process, I think the most disheartening thing about it all was that there wasn’t a level of care or support,” Henry said. “Had from the get-go Georgetown just told me, ‘Hey, you’re not gonna have medical housing,’ none of this would have been an issue.”
Henry is not alone, as other students have also expressed frustrations over the housing accommodations process, including misleading promises about their accommodations being met.
Lauren Santoro (CAS ’26), who has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and experiences chronic pain, fatigue, dizziness, brain fog, nausea and other symptoms associated with migraines because of her conditions, applied for academic and housing accommodations during the summer before her first semester. She requested extra time and breaks during exams, use of lecture recording software and a single room with a bathroom in a quiet space.
Santoro said that though two of her accommodations were eventually met, she was placed in a dorm that she said is known for being especially social.
“While I did get a single room and a bathroom, I am getting a lot of migraines because it is extremely loud every night here,” Santoro said in an interview with The Hoya.
Santoro said the most difficult part of being disabled at Georgetown stems from the lack of communication and clarity regarding the accommodation process.
“I think that one of the most difficult things about being disabled on this campus is that you just are not told what your resources are,” Santoro said. “I can’t stress enough that it’s just really hard to feel supported when no one’s telling you what the supports are.”
Lack of Communication
In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act, ARC provides academic housing accommodations that provide all students barrier-free access to university facilities. According to a university spokesperson, ARC focuses on accommodations, while the Office of Residential Living is responsible for housing assignments. In 2022, the ARC revised its terminology from “medical housing” to “housing accommodations” to emphasize the practical purpose of the process and deemphasize a medical model of disability.
However, some students say they have experienced inconsistent and unclear communication from ARC, which they feel has left them struggling to maintain the barrier-free access ARC works to provide.
Henry said they decided to apply for housing accommodations after a discussion with their doctor.
“I fall into panic attacks pretty easily with my disability, and that’s the main reason why having a room to myself is something that my therapist and I, after a few months, came to the conclusion was the best thing for my overall well-being,” Henry said.
Henry applied for accommodations in June 2022, after the first consideration deadline to request housing accommodations, but they could not meet the deadline because of the timing of their diagnosis.
Henry first contacted the Office of Residential Living on June 30 and was redirected to ARC. Their request for housing accommodations was approved, and their request was sent back to the Office of Residential Living to be carried out.
A university spokesperson explained that ARC accepts requests for housing accommodations requests from November through the end of April, but any requests submitted after this time frame are still processed and considered on a rolling basis.
Henry said they were set to live in a Village A apartment and were told during in-person conversations with multiple people from the Office of Residential Living that they would have a single room.
“In in-person conversations that I had, I was told that this would be perfectly reasonable,” Henry said. “Looking back, in-person dialogues don’t mean anything, but at the time, I was just like, ‘Oh, I can trust the person I’m speaking to.’”
In the weeks leading up to fall move in, Henry said they sent several emails and made phone calls to the Office of Residential Living to ensure that they would be able to live in a single in the Village A apartment. Henry said that in in-person or phone exchanges, they were told that this would either be possible or that the Office of Residential Living was in the process of making changes to make it possible.
Henry was a community adviser for the Community Scholars Program over the summer and was put in transition housing in a single in Village A by chance a week before fall move in. Shortly before moving into their transition housing, Henry went to the Office of Residential Living to confirm that they could live in that same Village A apartment as a single for the full academic year, at which point Krista Haxton, director of housing operations of the Office of Residential Living, informed them that they would not be receiving their requested accommodations.
“Two days before I’m supposed to actually move into this transition housing, I go to Res Living, and I’m like, ‘Hey, I waited until the very last minute, I know y’all are overloaded, but I need to make sure that I’m able to have this place as a single because that’s my medical accommodation,’” Henry said.
Haxton told Henry that because they missed the deadline to submit a doctor’s note, they would need to be put on a waiting list to potentially receive on-campus housing that met their needs.
When contacted for comment, Haxton directed The Hoya to a statement that a university spokesperson had previously shared with The Hoya.
“Our accommodations process is consistent with disability laws and best practices in higher education,” the statement reads. “We do not refuse consideration of any requests regardless of when or in what format they arrive, but we do ask students to follow the University’s established procedures, which include deadlines and forms to help the Academic Resource Center and Residential Living ensure that student requests are handled efficiently and that students receive the most appropriate accommodations.”
“The housing process is highly individualized,” the statement continues. “We want to achieve a fair and consistent process. Any students who experience difficulty or have concerns with respect to the application of their accommodations are encouraged to first discuss this matter with the ARC so that a collaborative discussion with the student and faculty member can take place.”
Henry said staying in on-campus housing without these accommodations was not feasible for them, especially with the added stress of transitioning into a new semester.
“It would not be possible for me to go specifically, that period of time, when there was already a lot of transitioning and my triggers were already slightly heightened, for me to stay in a room with someone else,” Henry said.
Henry said their only option was to get an off-campus apartment, which they moved into at the beginning of October. However, Henry had to sleep on their friend’s couch for six weeks while they waited for a lease to open up.
After two weeks, Henry said they received an email stating that a single opened up in Kennedy Hall, at which point they had already signed a lease and could not accept the on-campus housing.
“At this point, I had just signed a lease, so I couldn’t do anything,” Henry said. “Because I’d already been under the impression I didn’t have housing, I made accommodations for myself.”
Last-Minute Housing Decisions
Shreya Dudeja (SOH ’25) said she faced similar frustrations regarding last-minute communication from the housing accommodations team.
Dudeja has arthrogryposis, a condition that weakens her joints in her lower extremities, making it difficult to walk long distances, especially across Georgetown’s hilly campus.
Dudeja requested a variety of accommodations to alleviate her struggles in getting around campus, including a request to live in a central building with non-communal bathrooms, an accessible laundry facility and close proximity to elevators.
In her first year, Dudeja was assigned to live in Copley Hall, which she said adequately met her needs. However, Dudeja encountered difficulties in getting to and from Leo J. O’Donovan Hall to eat in the dining hall.
“The walk to Leo’s itself –– the fastest way is just going down that hill, which is really difficult for me — I cannot do that just because it takes a lot of strain on my legs,” Dudeja said. “After living on campus as a freshman, I obviously realized that Leo’s was difficult to get to, and I needed other means of getting food.”
Because of the difficult walk to Leo’s, Dudeja requested to live in an apartment for her sophomore year. She didn’t realize when the application for housing accommodations for the 2022-23 academic year was sent out and missed the first consideration deadline for housing accommodations because of a lack of communication regarding the application timeline.
“We didn’t really know when the application went out, until they sent a reminder email a week before it was due in February,” Dudeja said. “I didn’t realize that it had been open for so long.”
Similar confusion has happened this year. The first consideration deadline to apply for housing accommodations for the 2023-24 academic year passed Feb. 3, 2023. This deadline was communicated in monthly newsletters from ARC, which is sent to students who previously subscribed to the newsletter. The first newsletter in which this deadline appeared was sent in December 2022.
However, the first mass email communicating this deadline to students who are not subscribed to the newsletter was sent out from the Office of Residential Living on Feb. 6, three days after the deadline.
The application for housing accommodations requires a new doctor’s note when reapplying for accommodations for the next academic year. Because last year Dudeja found out the application was due only a week prior to the deadline, she rushed to get a note from her doctor. Dudeja received her doctor’s note a few days after the first consideration deadline, moving her request to second consideration.
The Office of Residential Living issues housing assignments to students with first consideration requests for housing accommodations prior to assigning housing to the general student body, ensuring that they will receive their requested accommodations before general housing assignments are made. Students with second consideration requests for housing accommodations are assigned to the remaining open housing.
Despite missing the first consideration deadline, Dudeja was told in March that she would receive her requested accommodations.
“For sophomore year, they told me that they could support the accommodation of an apartment with choosing my own roommates,” Dudeja said. “They told me that this was something that they could do in March.”
Dudeja, along with other students with second consideration accommodation requests, received her housing assignment in July. She was informed that, although her other accommodation requests could be met, she would not be living in an apartment.
“They said, ‘Sorry, we don’t have any apartments available anymore,’ and my first question was ‘Why was it given away when you told me in March that I was going to get one?’” Dudeja said. “I was under the impression that they save spaces for people with medical housing, and then you just find out later, but I guess it’s just that they give it away, and you kind of get leftovers.”
When Santoro first arrived on Georgetown’s campus, she encountered various accessibility issues that have complicated her transition to life as a college student. Santoro has difficulties getting around Georgetown’s hilly landscape because of chronic migraines and POTS, which causes her to experience dizziness, heart palpitations and fatigue.
Beyond the issue of physical accessibility, including out-of-service elevators and doors with ADA-compliant push buttons that do not work, one of the most prominent issues that Santoro has faced involves communication issues with the Office of Residential Living, specifically regarding housing accommodations.
Before committing to Georgetown, Santoro spoke with an upperclassman who explained how to navigate the accommodation request process. Santoro said this assistance was the only reason the process went smoothly, as information about the process on the ARC website was unclear.
“I think there are a lot of things, a lot of nuanced things, that they don’t tell you,” Santoro said. “I do not think I would have been able to get the accommodations that I needed if I didn’t have people already here who told me what I needed to do.”
Santoro said Georgetown does not make accommodations and resources on campus accessible enough.
“I think that one of the most difficult things about being disabled on this campus is that you just are not told what your resources are,” Santoro said. “It’s just really hard to feel supported when no one’s telling you what the supports are.”
Santoro submitted all of the required documentation to request accommodations early, including a statement explaining her need for accommodations and letters from her therapist, pediatrician and specialists.
Santoro said she met with an ARC employee June 23, who confirmed that she would receive academic accommodations.
However, Santoro did not receive similar communication from the Office of Residential Living, which never confirmed that she was granted accommodations and that her housing assignment would match those accommodations.
“I didn’t actually know whether I had been granted my needs for housing until I actually set foot in my dorm room,” Santoro said.
Santoro was placed in New South, where she has a single room with a bathroom. Though she received two of her requested accommodations, she said has encountered issues with her housing placement.
“They put me in New South, which is notoriously loud,” Santoro said. “So while I did get a single room and a bathroom, I am getting a lot of migraines because it is extremely loud every night here.”
Santoro explained that, without the help of the upperclassman who guided her through the accommodations process, she likely would not have been able to navigate the process on her own.
“I think the only reason everything went relatively smoothly on my end was because I actually talked to an upperclassman before I committed, and they sent me the steps that I would need to go through to get my accommodations,” Santoro said. “I actually went back and looked at the website for this stuff at Georgetown, and it’s not really clear what you need to do.”
A university spokesperson said the deadlines posted by the ARC are only consideration deadlines since they are tied to larger housing selection schedules.
“Even after the end of the post-selection period (formerly known as ‘second consideration’), the ARC receives and processes requests on a rolling basis,” the spokesperson said.
Students like Henry have still not received accommodations as a result of missed deadlines, with some having to rush to find off-campus housing with little to no assistance from the university or live in housing that they say does not support their needs
Dudeja says the process to get housing accommodations has taken a toll on her, and she feels that Georgetown is not meeting its commitment to disability services.
“When I’m sitting there, literally pleading for something that I cannot live without, and they’re telling me that I can live without it, and that I’ll be fine, it just makes you feel like you’re not being heard,” Dudeja said.