Graduate students see new on-campus housing option as short-term response
Graduate student leader Kristofferson Culmer: “It is a temporary solution, and I appreciate that from the university, but the issue of graduate student housing needs a long-term solution.”
Aug. 30, 2016
For doctoral candidate Kristofferson Culmer, new graduate housing options at Tiger Reserve and Respect Hall are a temporary solution.
“The price point is still out of reach for a lot of grad students,” Culmer said. “A lot of grad students have roommates, so when you factor in rent and utilities split between two people, their monthly living expenses are still less than $1,000, even including food.”
Besides being a graduate student himself, Culmer is also the former Graduate Professional Council president and current president of the National Association of Graduate Professional Students.
“It is a temporary solution, and I appreciate that from the university, but the issue of graduate student housing needs a long-term solution,” he said.
In June, the Department of Residential Life announced that Respect Hall and Tiger Reserve, both closed to undergraduates for the 2016-17 academic year, would be available to graduate students this year instead. Respect is the university’s first on-campus housing option for graduate students in 15 years, Director of Residential Life Frankie Minor told The Maneater in June.
There are 42 graduate student units available in Tiger Reserve, Minor said in June. About 40 graduate student units are available in Respect, and sections of the building will also be used as temporary housing for visitors, such as visiting faculty, according to the Columbia Missourian.
While on-campus housing might not work well for some graduate students, Alex Howe, a doctoral student in philosophy and Graduate Professional Council treasurer, said it could be ideal for international graduate students.
“My understanding is that we have a significant international student population who, per capita, are the biggest utilizers of GPC’s services,” Howe said. “I would expect that that sort of a plan would be attractive to an international student who’s coming here for the first time. This would be a rental agreement with something that the university has its name on, so you can feel secure in the decision. The meal plan is included, so you don’t have to go off campus or have a car.”
Respect is more expensive than the university’s other options for graduate students. According to the ResLife website, MU’s student apartments — Tara Apartments, University Heights and Manor House — range from $460 to $755 a month, which includes internet and cable, but not furniture or utilities, except some at Manor House. Tiger Reserve is $485 per month, and comes fully furnished with utilities, cable and internet included.
Rent at Respect is $1,000 per month and includes furnishings, utilities, unlimited laundry, internet, ethernet and cable. Although there are only two kitchens available in the building, a dining plan is included.
The Coalition of Graduate Workers and the Forum on Graduate Rights have been advocating for benefits like housing, childcare and healthcare for the past year. The forum was created in August 2015 after the university gave graduate workers 13-hours notice that their health insurance coverage would not be renewed, and the coalition was formed shortly afterward.
Howe believes the graduate student population is more diverse and has different needs than the average undergraduate when it comes to housing.
“The median age is 32,” Howe said. “People are combat veterans, home owners, parents, many of these people are from other countries and completely different cultures with no safety network.”
MU did not announce that Respect would be used as graduate student housing until June, when Howe says many students had already signed leases elsewhere for the upcoming school year. He said he’s concerned that the low numbers of graduate students living in Respect could be used as leverage against the coalition.
“What’s really concerning is that they might use the data to say, ‘Look, we gave you housing and nobody used it, so that’s a demand that you have — we tried to do it and it wasn’t used. We’re not going to continue doing it,’” Howe said. “So they have this public image of trying to help when we’ve spoken out about our needs.”
At the graduate rights rally on Aug. 24, associate professor Rabia Gregory spoke of students standing their ground and their focus on goals and demands for this year.
“Stand firmly when you see something you’re upset about, and demand proper compensation for your labor,” Gregory said. “Don’t let a budget crisis hurt teaching or research. And make sure that students stay a priority no matter what.”
Edited by Kyra Haas | firstname.lastname@example.org