In the middle of October, when students are busy writing essays and preparing for exams, the administration of CSU Monterey Bay sent an email to residents of the student dorms: if you want to stay in your dorm room for any portion of winter break, the email said, be prepared to pay a new fee of $800.
For Lauryn Davis, a sophomore studying molecular biology, spending more on housing was not an option. She works as a food clerk at Safeway and had planned to live in her dorm and keep holding down her job during the break. In the past, students were always allowed to continue living in their dorms. So when the email about the fee came, it was a shock to Davis. “For them to take such measures to make more money out of us...what do they want from us?” she asked. “I was dealing with my midterms and it was crazy and added stress.”
Finding a solution became her main priority. Luckily for Davis, her parents could welcome her back home in Jackson, California, and her boss could arrange for her to do her shifts at the Safeway store in that area. She says she felt fortunate compared to other students who might not have had as much support.
On Nov. 1, a student group named MEChA, or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, staged a demonstration under the banner “Residents, not Revenue” to push back against the fee, alerting the Weekly to the “thousands of students who are going to suffer immensely,” as an email from student organizer Siana Fields put it.
The winter fee was a new policy added by the university administration this year. It appeared in the fine print of student housing contracts; the residents of the dorms had all agreed to the policy, even if they weren’t aware of it.
CSUMB spokesperson Noah Rappahahn says that the university should have made an effort to notify students of the change. “It’s a significant change and it could have been communicated to them,” he says, “rather than just put into their contracts.” He added that having students occupy their dorm rooms over winter proved costly to the university: “The fee was a way to limit the number of students who don’t have to be here.”
What about students who had no other option, who couldn’t afford to travel back home or had no home to go back to? A fee waiver was available to those who could show they faced “hardship,” according to Rappahahn. But the October email about the fee didn’t mention it—another failure of communication by administrators.
On the day of the demonstration, Seaside City Councilmember Jon Wizard criticized the university in a thread on Twitter. “Forcing students to choose between homelessness and spring semester tuition or between sustenance and shelter is unacceptable,” he wrote. “CSUMB should admit their error in failing to plan and retract the fee increase. These students have limited resources and cannot bail out the university.”
Wizard’s words and the activism of students had an impact: the university decided to cancel the fee for everyone.
“Thank you for sharing with me your concerns regarding the Winter Housing Fee, I am listening to you,” wrote Jeff Cooper, CSUMB’s director of Student Housing & Residential Life, in a mass email. “While this fee was included in the license signed by all residents, I understand we could have done a better job communicating this information to students. Because of this, I have agreed to waive the fee for this winter term. We will reevaluate the need for a winter housing fee and roll out a communication plan for any changes that might occur next year.”