Students piled into the Office of Housing and Residence Life after a website malfunction caused the college to freeze the housing application on April 17.
Vice President and Dean of Campus Life James Hoppe said the college closed the housing application portal on the first day of suite selection because of a software issue with StarRez, the company the college uses for housing. The website glitch, higher demand for suites with singles, and fewer applicants winning the off-campus housing lottery frustrated students trying to get housing for the 2019–20 school year.
Associate Director of Housing Operations Kendra Stokes sent an email to affected students at 10:13 a.m. explaining that OHRL knew the system malfunctioned, froze the website, and planned to notify students when the portal would reopen.
“At 9:45 a.m., [Stokes] checked the system and saw nobody had made a choice, according to the system,” Hoppe said. “She started checking and realized what was going on. So they tried to see really quickly if they could fix it themselves and realized it was more of a company problem.”
OHRL sent another email at 2:59 p.m. explaining that the new suite selection began at 3:15 p.m.—16 minutes after OHRL sent the email—for students who were originally scheduled to select housing at 9:15 a.m.
“Unfortunately, any suite you may have attempted to book or think you may have booked earlier today did not process through to student profiles allowing you to secure the space for the upcoming year,” the email stated. “All spaces that were available for today, are still all available for this delayed process.”
Stokes told the Beacon in March 2018 that Emerson began using StarRez in spring 2018 to improve the application process because older software tended to crash or freeze.
The malfunction follows the new three-year residency requirement that resulted in OHRL denying many students’ suite requests. Sophomore Sarah Heidrick said she applied for a suite with other friends, but OHRL disbanded their group of four.
“When I signed the housing contract, I was under the impression that [rising] juniors would get priority,” Heidrick said in a statement to the Beacon. “I’m essentially going into my junior year with an ‘Okay, what are they gonna do next?’ attitude. I also understand that spaces for singles are in high demand, but if that is the case then I don’t understand why they didn’t turn Little Building into more apartment-style living for upperclassmen.”
Stokes attributed the issues to higher demand and not the system.
“There’s no issue with any system,” Stokes said in an interview on April 12. “There is more demand for four(-) and five-person suites than there are physically on campus.”
Sophomore Claire Farnsworth and freshman Gabriella Avelino applied for a four-person suite, but OHRL disbanded their group. Farnsworth then had to choose a double in the Paramount residence hall.
“My heart dropped immediately when I saw that there [were] absolutely no singles available,” Farnsworth said. “The only thing that was available were doubles in Paramount, so I just picked some random room—I’ve never researched dorms in Paramount. I cried a little bit, and then I emailed housing.”
Hoppe said part of the problem is people wanting more singles than there are available.
“More people want singles then there are singles available, so that in and of itself was going to cause some stress,” Hoppe said. “So you add the system malfunction on top of it—it’s exacerbated. I would offer my apology [to] any student that’s been affected by this because it’s certainly not what should have happened.”
If students feel frustrated with their housing assignment, they can still apply to live off campus, but Hoppe said the college needs to fill the more than 2,500 beds on campus before releasing students from their housing requirement.
Former Senior Associate Director of Housing and Residence Life Seth Hodge left in January 2019 leaving Stokes as the only employee in charge of housing operations.
Stokes said approximately 130 students applied for the off-campus lottery for the fall 2019 semester, and about 35 percent of students received approval—a decrease from previous years, as the college predicted in fall 2018. Students receive no priority for off-campus approval depending on their year or credits.
“We can’t release you if there’s not somebody to take the space, so that’s the cold comfort,” Hoppe said. “That there could still be an opportunity to move off campus if [students] are not happy with [their] assignment. It’s just a trade as people come in who want the space, then we release people.”
Avelino said that she hopes that OHRL keeps the best interests of students in mind.
“I just hope that the goal on Emerson’s side is to do the best they can to help us find living situations that are most beneficial for us as students and not what is most convenient for the school,” Avelino said.
Xinyi Xu contributed to the reporting of this article.
Editor-in-Chief Maya Gacina did not edit this story due to a conflict of interest.