Photo By Grace Zwierzyna
Dear West Chester University Administration,
On Friday, Dec. 9, you denied hundreds of your students access to a basic Human Right. In addition to the weight of final exams, you informed us that homelessness threatened our academic careers at WCU. This year, you denied countless students access to the affordable traditional on-campus housing option. Since then we have either been forced into affiliated University Student Housing at a sizable increase in cost or to seek expensive off-campus housing. During an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, WCU President, Christopher Fiorentino stated that, “Rental rates have been increasing, so all of a sudden this very stable pattern that we’ve been observing for many, many years has shifted on us, and of course all of this happened coming out of the pandemic,” Fiorentino said, adding that “2019 was our last normal year.”
While President Fiorentinos’ remarks would lead some to believe that the current state of our Housing Crisis was sparked by rental rates or the Covid-19 Pandemic, we know that this is a fallacy. The astronomical rise in student housing costs was not inevitable. In 2013 WCU agreed to limit the use and amount of affordable university-owned housing as it transitions to “affiliated” housing at twice the price. The university decided to privatize student housing, doubling the cost of on-campus housing.
We want the administration of WCU to understand that privatization is hurting students and should be reversed immediately. Let us explain: The housing crisis has displaced hundreds of your students, leaving us to choose between transferring to another university, dropping out, or succumbing to the harsh reality of collegiate homelessness. As we scramble to find a safe place to live next year, our pleas to stop our displacement were met with silence by the administration we trusted to protect and care for us.
In the Fall of 2022, West Chester University enrolled the largest first-year class in its history, with a whopping 28% increase in size since the year 2014. While WCU officials celebrated this historic number as a victory, many of us can attest that part of the progression of the housing crisis can be attributed to the irresponsible rate in which new students are accepted, compared to the number of beds that are available to accommodate new and current students.
When asked for her perspective on WCUs’ record breaking incoming class, Executive Vice President and Provost, Laurie Bernotsky said, “There are lots of universities on a mission to make themselves as exclusive and inaccessible as possible. That can’t be West Chester. We need to serve the diverse students in our region and that means being accessible and affordable. While there are lots of schools fighting for that top 1% of students who can pay top dollar for a college education, we’ll proudly focus our attention on the remaining 99%.”
While promises such as these are alluring and reassuring to prospective students, the “action” that follows these promises offers the West Chester University Foundation and its “affiliated” LLC, University Student Housing, profitability at the expense of affordability for students. Tragically, Bernotsky and others’ empty promises have coaxed countless people into coming to WCU under the false pretense that the university will ensure students’ basic needs will be met, such as affordable housing fit for humans, enabling us to focus and access whatever quality education may be offered. However, upon admission we quickly realize that this is not the case. Executive Vice President Bernatosky, if you cannot provide fair publicly owned housing to all of your students, is West Chester University truly accessible and affordable?
These are our demands:
1. IMMEDIATE: Provide stipends that can be used to pay for off-campus housing by students who have been denied on-campus housing.
2. Make affordable housing options available for ALL students through traditional housing.
3. Develop new public dorm buildings or additions on existing WCU-owned buildings to accommodate the students.
4. Have WCU officials advocate and communicate the urgency for the provision of additional student housing options to the state and borough legislature.
5. Reverse USH-owned housing facilities back to WCU-owned facilities.
We look forward to a prompt reply from your office outlining precisely how and exactly when these demands will be addressed. Fair Housing For All.
Written by West Chester University’s Students for Socialism and Liberation Club and Fair Housing for All