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Dude, where's my housing?

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NOVEMBER 06, 2017

The first time I stumbled into UC Berkeley’s Transfer Student Center, my attention was siphoned off by the facility’s makeshift aesthetic. You don’t exactly need to know the feng shui rules of room arrangement to notice that something is seriously off. A barrage of elongated, parallel tables completely block the side entrance of a room already struggling to meet the spacial dimensions of a typical classroom.

Uninspired — a cramped afterthought awkwardly relegated to a shared occupancy with the Student Parent Center — the Lower Sproul Plaza-based transfer center spearheads a genuine mission ultimately crippled by an inexcusable lack of financial support from the campus. A lack of funds for the campus’s bona fide transfer space is indicative of an overall deficiency in resources for new transfer students  — this is most clear in transfers’ struggle to secure inclusive housing.

Of course, UC Berkeley students, whether transfers or not, are victims of an underfunded, dysfunctional system of higher education. But in the battle for scraps, the transfer community most certainly does not come out on top.

Unlike freshman admits, the majority of incoming transfers end up living off-campus, partially because of the exorbitant price tag, with a lack of guaranteed, decent transfer housing as the cherry on top. Off the bat, the well-documented lower income status of UC Berkeley’s transfer students eliminates the possibility of campus housing for the plurality.

Now, don’t be fooled. While there is a housing application process which gives priority to newly admitted transfers, the campus absolutely does not allocate a dorm building specifically for this demographic. This is to say that if you are a 25-year-old re-entry student and lose the lottery, you could find yourself roomed with a fresh-outta-high-school freshman who has never cracked open a cold one.

Considering the ability for on-campus housing to create lasting friendships for new students, its inaccessibility to transfers only exacerbates a preexisting struggle to find social circles as a new transfer.

When you are a new student, access to campus housing as a right should be non-negotiable, rather than a gamble of affordability and hopeful circumstances. Such a pie-in-the-sky standard can’t possibly coalesce into reality, right? In a year of contested college rankings against UCLA, it feels particularly traitorous to bring this up — but the No. 2 public school in the world kicks UC Berkeley’s ass when it comes to transfer housing. In fact, every single new admit is guaranteed housing in a transfer-specific unit for the entire first academic year.

The disagreeable housing standard for transfers is just the smoking gun. Steven Nguyen, the effective second in command at the transfer center, notes that everything comes down to — as Mr. Krabs would say — money, money, money.

Ironically, as UC Berkeley continues to exponentially take in more transfer students, the budget specifically designated toward transfers has largely remained the same according to Nguyen. Shockingly, while it serves  an entire 25 percent of the student body, the transfer center — the only institutionalized body for transfer students — has only two full-time, paid (and overworked) staffers.

One of the few ways that UC Berkeley takes an active role in the transitioning process is through the Education 198 course, another case study of insufficient resources. Designed to familiarize new junior transfers with the vastness of Golden Bear territory, this one-unit weekly class capped out this fall semester with more than a hundred students waitlisted.

While Nguyen would like to see more transfer funding so the center can hold larger events and buy significantly more supplies, it’s worth pointing out that the future already looks brighter from here on.

As of this past August, the sixth floor of Maximino Martinez Commons now exclusively houses transfers, with tailored programming and a transfer RA. Transfer center staffers are continuously pushing for additional sections for the transitional course in light of unprecedented class enrollment. Increased outreach in low-income services, such as CalFresh with its new “mega clinics,” has the potential to mitigate food insecurity for former community college students.

Every so often when I plop into the transfer center, I’m reminded why most of my friends haven’t been yet. At first glance, it just seems like just another study spot, even though its counselors have a wide breadth of knowledge that provides me reassurance.

I aimlessly wander in hopes of feeling like this space was designed for me. Walking just past the staff cubicles, I stop to Snapchat an iconic site — the center’s communal coffee machine that suggests 25 cent donations per use. It’s the kind of sign that makes me want to ironically yell “Go Bears,” and personally question whether the campus’s dedication to transfer students is purely in name only.

Neil McClintick writes the Monday blog on transfer student troubles. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @neil_park.

NOVEMBER 06, 2017