Beginning Saturday, April 15 and running through Monday, April 17, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) is staging a protest in which they sleep on Wilson Quad in tents in order to protest inequity in housing.
As part of their media statement they said, “We’re here as students of the University of Rochester, and we’re sleeping outside because the administration doesn’t feel that it’s worth their time or money to provide students with decent housing. UR’s student housing is so limited and terrible that more and more students each year are driven off campus and are further gentrifying the 19th Ward and Rochester at large. Our goal is to bring more attention to this issue and put pressure on the University’s current land use policies in regards to the Greenbaum and Newman centers.”
The Greenbaum Center for Jewish Life and the Catholic Newman Center are two new religious buildings being built on campus with funding from alumni donors. SDS claims that instead of building these centers, more student housing should be built. However, this is not all they are protesting for — better uptake in housing and improved standards of living for students are key items on their agenda.
Many students are being forced to move off campus, because they either can’t afford or can’t get a spot in the on-campus housing lottery on campus, which has caused the rent prices in the surrounding area to go up exponentially. This makes it a lot harder for people who live in 19th Ward and Southwest to afford the buildings they live in. In addition to this, the housing that does exist has its own issues.
Reports of red and black mold are common among students, and so are reports of pests like cockroaches, rats, and mice.
These living conditions are improper for students, and can cause harm to them as well. Black mold is particularly toxic, and can cause many health issues if it isn’t contained.
“I think just at a base level we want the University to like pest control and mold control over the summer before students come in. And more generally, in the future, hoping for administration to include students on these housing decisions more and not administration instead of simply asking one or two people in SA or sending out a survey that no one responds to. We want people to be in the room,” said sophomore and SDS Chair of Internal Affairs Somes Schwinghammer.
Providing mold and pest control could solve some of these housing quality issues, and provide a better environment for students to live in. If this proceeds students may also feel like they have more of a voice amongst the administration as something is being done about their concerns.
“Physically living on empty space on campus shows that they can build more. Like if we can have all these tents on the quad, there is plenty of space for more people as long as we don’t build kind of unimportant buildings,” said sophomore Katie Jarvis.
Building more housing may also resolve some of the concerns of the students as then they won’t be forced to move off campus and instead can live peacefully on campus.
“Another issue with the Newman and the Greenbaum Center is that these have been plan[ned] and they’ve been budgeting for it for like eight years or so. And we are only hearing about it like this year. And that brings us back to the student input part of our demands. It’s like, this isn’t not asking for student input. Like this is just donor stuff. It’s a transparency issue,” said junior and SDS Business Manager Eleyna Mauves.
This protest has caused people to turn their heads, as parents of prospective students on campus tours have come up to ask SDS about what is going on, as well as snapping pictures of their signs. The deans have also been attending meetings about it, showing that an impact is being made by this group of students.
“It is worth noting that our goal isn’t necessarily to decrease the enrollment, or the goal is to inform those who are thinking because, I mean, I personally appreciate the academic side of this. It’s a very rigorous and educational institution and I love being able to do research and everything on campus. The issue is housing,” said Schwinghammer.
Many may have misconceptions about the goal of the SDS protest, but they aren’t trying to hinder the reputation of the University; rather, they are just trying to create a better environment for future students.
“We didn’t get any support from admin. We don’t have any money that we’re using from them. This is all money from us. We care. Students deserve to have a voice because students are people,” said Mauves.
Without proper financial support, all of the tents and other expenses have come out of the pockets of the SDS students and their families. They believe that this expense is worth it, though. They want to advocate for their cause, and believe that this is the best way to do it.
“I want students to, you know, kind of break out of that complacency too. We are consumers and we’re purchasing a service in the University and we have a right to demand that that service is priced fairly,” said Jarvis.