Letters to the Editor: In Defense of the FP Housing Article

Last week, the director of the FP program and a current FP scholar, who is the secretary of the FP Student Association (FPSA), responded to my article on FP housing in the March 8 issue of this newspaper. Since both articles claim to point out “inaccuracies” in my article, let me state clearly: I got every piece of information that appears in that article from either MHC newspaper archives or official sources. So, any “inaccuracy” began at the source. It would have been in the spirit of the honor code to acknowledge this, but that may be expecting too much at this stage. In this letter, I wish to give a few more details about this story. 

Before that, let me clarify my position in reference to the other opinions. The current secretary of the FPSA is a commuter student, whereas I am a residential FP. Residential FPs pay full room and board charges, live on campus and have to take a full course load. Commuters do not live on campus, are not required to take a full course load, but if they need to stay overnight, they can get a “commuter bed” for a nominal charge of $20 per night (as informed by a commuter FP). For this cost, commuters can get all the facilities available to residential FPs (including a fully equipped kitchen, Wi-Fi etc.). Residential FPs, on the other hand, get to keep their rooms throughout their stay. Till now, a natural extension of this has been that residential FP’s keep their belongings in their room during the summer. Arguably, one without the other is pointless, but ResLife has recently informed me that while I will be allowed to keep my room next year, I will have to empty it over the summer.

What I wish to highlight is not only the lack of logic in decision making, but also the brazen lack of transparency. The FP director told me that I have to empty my room because of conferences held over summer, whereas the director of ResLife recently informed me that the reason is that the rooms need maintenance. Which reason is it? If it is the latter, I’ll point out that I got a maintained, freshly painted room when I moved in fall 2017. Surely, there are better ways for ResLife to utilize its funds than to maintain the same room two years in a row, when its occupant is not going to change.

Both articles claim that the administration made these decisions after “careful consideration,” keeping in mind the “needs of the FP community,” after seeking “feedback from our community.” These claims are demonstrably false. The secretary has been in her position since February. Even though I have been actively conveying my concerns to the members of the FPSA board and administration personally since the decision was announced in January, the minutes of FPSA meetings this semester up until the publication of my first article show that this matter was not even raised in these meetings. I will remind the reader that the FPSA board are elected to represent ALL FP concerns equally. 

I have been told that this matter was discussed last semester too, even though the minutes from meetings held last semester do not record any such discussion. Even if it was discussed informally, the FPs who are actually affected by this decision are residential FPs (continuing and future), while the only people who participated in these discussions that may or may not have happened (and perhaps, affected current decisions) were all either commuters or residential students who are graduating at the end of this semester, none of whom are affected by this change in housing situation. 

After I wrote my first article, an open FPSA meeting was called on March 20. I attended this meeting, as did FPSA board members and FP and ResLife directors. First, I’ll mention that this meeting was advertised as being preceded by a Happy Hour. Given that an individual is deemed unfit to drive when under the influence of alcohol (because alcohol impairs decision-making), I am struggling to understand how advertising a pre-meeting drinks session indicates the seriousness of the organizers to give a fair hearing to concerns about the decision. Indeed, the tone of the meeting was that the decision was written in stone and all that needs to be worked out is a suitable compromise. This again reflected in the thoughtful circular arrangement of the chairs at the meeting (as noted in the minutes) where several members showed up under influence. 

Most of the updated information presented by the two responses are from this meeting. However, there are some discrepancies that I’ll point out. First, the minutes clearly state that ResLife is only working on Wi-Fi for ONE of the three locations, 57 College Street. The other two still won’t have Wi-Fi. I will add here that Dickinson had six commuter beds, and all six will be shifted to 57 College Street, which leaves room for only two resident FPs. There will still be no housekeeping at any location. And while the responses attempt to characterize doing laundry as just crossing a road, I recently estimated that the distance between 3 Park Street and Torrey (the nearest hall) is around 500 feet. Also, both articles (and the meeting minutes) assert that future residential FPs will be able to live in traditional dorms. However, I pressed the ResLife director specifically on this issue during the meeting, when it was announced that a student will have to present “compelling reasons” to be accommodated on campus, but to no avail.

Given that commuters only really use Wi-Fi and kitchen, and both of these will continue to be available to them, I can understand why the secretary has no problem with the current decision. I do not begrudge her this, because the culture is always set at the top. The director claims to be an “advocate” for FPs. One of the items discussed in the last FPSA meeting (and recorded in the minutes) was how “FPs are not an investment to the College,” on account of the “low giving rate of FP alum.” I have read newspaper articles from the 80s written by true advocates of our program, who list eloquently what exactly FPs add to this College. Sadly, such people and their vision are no longer with us, which is why this assertion went unchallenged by the director during the meeting. But this unchallenged assertion has morphed into a flawed belief held by some that FPs are “privileged” in some way and reflects in the repeated confusion of tuition scholarships awarded on merit with paid room and board charges. Someone who allows this flawed belief to persist cannot be an “advocate.” 

The director reports a “steady decline in demand” for on-campus housing by FPs. Last semester, there were 19 resident FPs. When the decision was taken in January, five FPs were known to continue being residents next year, but there is no way the administration knew how many FPs entering next year would demand housing. Just this spring (when fewer students are admitted), two FPs entering the program opted for on-campus housing. The numbers I have quoted seem to me to be more indicative of a “fluctuating demand” rather than a steadily declining one. 

What has happened instead has been an utter lack of any advocacy. For example, Dickinson, as I have mentioned before, was originally allotted to FPs in response to an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint. Every institution receiving federal aid must comply with ADA pro-actively. And yet, in a program for older students, any student with accessibility issues will have to ask to be accommodated. Then, the student’s issue will be judged to be genuine or not. Let’s say a 50-year-old broke her leg in her youth that did not heal perfectly. This causes leg pains when she climbs stairs. I would argue that such a prospective FP has an accessibility issue, albeit not one that is easily discernible. But this student will have to present “compelling reasons” to be accommodated. And even if she is, the FP lounge (where FPs are supposed to meet and mingle) will be shifted to 57 College Street, a building that is definitely not accessible to our hypothetical student. I pose the question again: Who is advocating for her?

I could go on, but I will stop here. I will reiterate what I mentioned in the first article, that none of this inspires any trust in me. The administration seeks to reassure us that all is going well. That is the predominant tone in the responses, as well as one which I observed in my interactions on this issue this semester. However, to invoke a metaphor I used a while back, I feel I am sitting in the back of a car with a drunken driver who won’t tell me where she is taking me. And I, knowing this, cannot trust the driver’s assurances.

 

-Mrinalini Pandey, FP

Mount Holyoke News

Mount Holyoke News , Blanchard Campus Center, 50 College Street, South Hadley, MA, 01075