Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

URSA stages “sleep-in” protest over campus housing shortage

Residential Life email on student housing sparks protest

On Thursday evening, students pitched tents near the University of Massachusetts campus pond for a “sleep-in” protest, in response to an email notifying students with housing appointments that there were 900 more requests than spaces available on campus.

At 5 p.m. the protest began with around 50 students and a few tents. As the night progressed, more tents popped up and larger groups of students came to support the protest, with the crowd growing to around 100 students.

Students chatted, set up their tents and laid on the lawn around a communal station offering water and seating. There was a cardboard sign with the painted words “WELCOME TO SWAMMYVILLE” hanging at the area. Students appeared lighthearted and calm while congregating on the lawn, occasionally someone would play music.

A new student coalition, the UMass Radical Student Alliance (URSA), organized the protest, along with Revolutionary Marxist Students (RMS) and Revolutionary Student Action (RSA). The Cannabis Education Coalition is not a part of the collective but was also in attendance.

RMS member Mitchell Brecht, a sophomore history and geography major, said he helped plan the protest, which involved obtaining “a bunch of tents,” handing out flyers and attending 10 hours of meetings over the last couple of weeks.

“It’s an issue that we think is worth struggling over,” Brecht said.

A protest organizer and member of URSA and the Young Communist League said, “We figured [camping] would be a good mode of protesting because there’s a bit of irony inherent in that there’s a housing problem…[and] we are sleeping out on the pond.” They were granted anonymity to avoid retribution against them.

Around 7 p.m., students held an open discussion to raise concerns and explain personal experiences with housing, including a lack of space on campus and high rental costs off-campus.

This fall, the Fieldstone Apartments will offer 623 spots for undergraduate students, though the lowest possible monthly payment is $1,504 per individual for a four-bedroom apartment.

According to the Living at UMass Amherst website, the Board of Trustees sets room rates on campus to meet operation and maintenance costs of the residence halls. For the fall 2022 and spring 2023 semesters, the cheapest room is $3,353 per semester for expanded housing. The highest is a tie between a single room in North Apartments and a single in the Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community apartment, in the amount of $7,060.50.

Isabella Perera, a junior political science and philosophy major, explained her experience as a transfer student coming from the University of Massachusetts Boston. “I applied to housing and the process was fine…transfer students are kind of guaranteed housing, but they don’t tell you what that means,” Perera said.

She said that she doesn’t have housing for the fall semester and is planning to find an off-campus apartment with her friends. “We’re like, ‘let’s just get off campus…it’s probably even cheaper’ but it still kind of sucks.”

Freshman geology major Magdalen Bresee was one of many students that voiced concerns about off-campus housing affordability during the evening protest. Bresee said she is considering commuting to campus and changing her enrollment status to part-time for next year.

“UMass is like the only school that actually has a decent geology program, but I can’t really afford to live out here,” Bresee said.

In an April 14 press release from URSA, the group listed the following demands:

  • “Provide enough washers and dryers for residents”
  • “Provide disability accommodations in dorms”
  • “Provide protective housing with adequate accommodations for transgender students”
  • “Provide affordable break housing to vulnerable communities such as LGBTQ+ and international students”
  • “Provide affordable housing to all students who request housing”
  • “Open Commonwealth Honors College housing to all students”
  • “Only issue as many housing appointments as there are open beds”
  • “Not enter more private-public partnerships for housing”
  • “Build more affordable, accessible, public housing and only enroll as many students as the university infrastructure can support”

Prisha Dayal, a sophomore double major in political science and social thought and political economy, oversees CEPA’s food justice campaign and was also in attendance. Dayal felt that the housing process lacked communication and transparency to students.

“I think to a lot of students, it seems that the administration is unwilling to build more housing,” she said.

Dayal also noted the impact on the local community. “There are people living here who are not part of UMass who need affordable housing,” she said. “By kind of relying on off-campus housing, you’re pricing out people who are actually in the community, and even low-income people who go to UMass.”

By around 12 a.m., students began to disperse and those sleeping on the lawn gradually returned to their tents for the night.

Editor’s note: This story is developing and will be updated as information becomes available.

Olivia Capriotti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @CapriottiOlivia. Liesel Nygard can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @LieselNygard.

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