VGWU Solidarity Statement with Those Affected By Winter Break Housing Policies

To: Vanderbilt Student Body, Administration, Faculty, Staff, Alumni and Community Members

Subject: Statement of Solidarity Against Winter Break Housing Policy

November 18th, 2020

We, Vanderbilt Graduate Workers United (VGWU), strongly disapprove of Vanderbilt University’s latest Winter Break housing policy for Fall 2020. This new policy targets International, First-Generation, Disabled, LGBTQI+ and other marginalized students that rely heavily on on-campus housing for safe living conditions. It is morally reprehensible, given the rise in Covid-19 cases on campus, in Nashville, and across the country, for Vanderbilt University, itself a university that boasts being a leader of financial inclusivity, to impose financial barriers to any student that desires to stay on campus over break for their own safety or housing stability.

On October 7, Chancellor Diermeier and Provost Wente announced the student athletes, international students, and students experiencing or at-risk of homelessness may apply for winter break housing and that they would be charged a daily rate of $54.50/night starting November 23rd. Though this is the first day of Thanksgiving break, classes resume for online-only instruction after the week-long break. The last day of final examinations is not until December 12th. This means Vanderbilt will be double-charging students for staying on-campus during the final month of the academic semester (an additional $1000 to the starting semester-long housing rate of $5770). Students who reside in Vanderbilt on-campus for the duration of winter break housing face up to $3200 in housing charges. Meanwhile, in September of this year, the administration launched “Destination Vanderbilt,” and announced they would be spending $100 million dollars on this initiative to recruit new faculty. 

On October 10th, after public outrage, the Administration rolled back parts of the policy so as to cover students at-risk or experiencing homelessness. However, the administration provided little to no assistance on how to declare homeless status (and thereby achieve an exception to the policy) by the November 15th deadline.

On October 22nd, the Vanderbilt Student Government announced updates to the COVID-19 Hardship fund, created by the University to “support unexpected student expenses like last-minute airline tickets, housing, meals, technology for online learning and other necessities.” The updates included that the Administration would not permit the COVID-19 Hardship Fund to cover winter break housing accommodations. Fortunately, unlike their administration, Vanderbilt student leaders from Vanderbilt Mutual Aid and the Student Basic Needs Coalition have come together and support students who are not protected under this policy.

On November 9th, Vanderbilt released a statement of guidelines for travelling over the break and returning to campus in 2021. The update stated that students who need to isolate due testing positive or coming into close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 “may not be able to return home on the date they currently plan to do so.” Students who wish to leave Nashville before their 14-day quarantine period ends must either remain on campus, or complete a waiver and arrange to have themselves or a family member drive them home. What this means is that the Vanderbilt Housing Policy could charge its students up to $700 for making the smart and ethical decision to remain in quarantine in student housing and prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

This summer, despite petitions urging them to do otherwise, Vanderbilt made the decision to bring students back to campus. While we refrain from speculating about motivations behind the decision to reopen, the choice to do so comes with a responsibility to provide safe housing for its students. This responsibility does not expire on November 22nd

We, Vanderbilt Graduate Workers United, urge Vanderbilt University to revise its housing policy so as not to place financially vulnerable students at an unnecessary health risk, which frankly, was caused by their decision to reopen campus this fall. No student should be charged a fee for complying with COVID-19 related quarantine, regardless of their financial status. All students should be permitted (as they have in the past) to remain on campus without incurring additional housing fees for at least the duration of the semester. A University that prides itself on inclusion and support of its international and financially disadvantaged students (and benefits from the perception of being a University that does so) should have the decency to support these students who have been made particularly vulnerable by the COVID-19 pandemic and the poor ways in which it has been handled by institutions on every level. 

In Solidarity,

Vanderbilt Graduate Workers United