Over the course of the Spring semester, I have published quite a few articles in The Quad discussing various aspects of the housing crisis. In two recent articles, published on March 16 and April 16 respectively, I wrote about the story of Sydney Pike, a WCU student who deals with a disability as a result of an episode of stress-induced cardiomyopathy. In the following article, I wrote about how the housing crisis actually ends up unintentionally targeting students with disabilities who may need closer or more specific housing in order to thrive at West Chester.
Something that I did not go into too much detail about in the recently published articles is the fact that I myself also struggle with a disability. As a pre-teen, I was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a cancer of the bone. This led to nine months of chemotherapy as well as the amputation of my foot. Despite being incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to grow up and attend college, I am also facing a lifelong disability in the form of a prosthetic foot.
To make matters much worse, I was denied housing on Dec. 9, 2022, like hundreds of other West Chester University students. This came as a shock to me because I had taken measures to attempt to prevent this.
Up until this year, I had been able to work with the previous Associate Director of Housing, not only to ensure that I am able to be housed here, but also that I am placed in a location that will make it easier to navigate my disability. Susan Visoskas was always incredibly helpful, accommodating and kind. When I found out she was no longer part of the housing department, I reached out to them to inform them of her previous help, as well as the situation I am in. I received a response that stated I needed an “approved accommodation” through the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (OSSD).
I have been registered with the OSSD for non-housing related accommodations since the summer before my freshman year. Furthermore, as of the publishing of this article, when you access the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the OSSD website, you are informed that “the OSSD provides classroom/academic accommodations. For special housing requests, students should contact Residence Life and Housing.”
This is conflicting information. I was informed by Housing that I should get accommodations through the OSSD, and then the OSSD website is informing me that for housing requests, I should speak to Residence Life and Housing. To make matters worse, in the email sent out to students denied housing, we were informed that “as a result of our randomized Housing Selection Process, at this time we are unable to offer you the opportunity to continue to Phase 2 in the WCU 2023-2024 Housing Application Process.” I also confirmed in a conversation with the Housing Department that despite the fact that I had emailed them to inform them of my disability and history of housing accommodations, they could not take it into account because I did not have housing accommodations though the OSSD (which, as stated earlier, was a result of conflicting information).
As spring break was beginning and many of the students denied housing were all scrambling to find somewhere off-campus to live, I finally made the decision to alter my college plans. I had been preparing to return to West Chester for a fifth year so that I could complete a double major in both Political Science and English. However, with many different alterations to my Spring 2023 schedule, I was lucky enough to make it into the final classes I would need in order to graduate this semester with only a degree in Political Science and a minor in Journalism. Please don’t get me wrong: I am beyond lucky to even be here. Still, I can’t help but consider the opportunities I might have had if stable, affordable housing had been afforded to me. I was devastated to be told that a randomized process had been used to determine if I received housing, and that despite knowing that I had a disability that was registered with the OSSD, this still wasn’t a factor in deciding whether or not I received housing.
I am not the only student who struggles with a disability and was denied housing. At the same time, I am incredibly lucky to have been able to alter my schedule and graduate, rather than dropping out. According to CNBC, 72% of “students who’ve faced housing insecurity” think about dropping out completely. I am well aware of the privilege I’ve had to attend college and graduate with a bachelor’s degree. I do not think that I have reached my full potential, and it is a shame.
RJ Jacobson is a fourth-year political science major with minors in English and journalism. RJ923931@wcupa.edu