On Nov. 11, the Boston Globe published an article titled, “Falling elevators, raw hamburger, lax security at UMass Boston dorms,” detailing challenges in the University of Massachusetts Boston’s new Residence Halls. The author, Laura Krantz, referred to the new dormitories as “turning out to be more like the Tower of Tribulations than the Taj Mahal,” and proceeded to describe a series of such “tribulations” in the Residence Halls.
To be very clear: I fully support Ms. Krantz’s choice to write and publish this article. Journalism is a key aspect of a democratic society, and I appreciate her efforts to shed some light on the challenges students are facing this year. Her article is detailed, contains quotes from students, and I can attest to many of the points she makes. However, Ms. Krantz’s article may have unintended negative consequences for the residential community.
The article’s greatest shortcoming is that Ms. Krantz treats both minor inconveniences and serious concerns similarly. When readers scan multiple pieces of information in quick succession, each item appears equivalent to the others near it, even when they are not. For example, Ms. Krantz talks about a malfunction in September, in which an East Residence Hall’s elevator containing students fell several floors. Ms. Krantz also discusses students’ worries about the lack of security at the gates into the residence halls. These kinds of issues raise serious safety concerns, and Ms. Krantz was right to include them. On the other hand, Ms. Krantz’s article also describes water from a sparkling water faucet coming out flat, laundry machines not working, and the soft serve machine being broken. Listing minor inconveniences and major concerns side-by-side downplays the severity of the safety concerns, and it also encourages those on the outside to see the residents as just whiny teenagers who don’t know what a problem is. Already, readers have started making fun of the article’s mentioning of missing remotes and problems with food service in the comment section.
Another shortcoming in the article is that, while Ms. Krantz was certainly thorough in her descriptions of the current challenges in the Residence Halls, she neglected to mention the fact that UMass Boston, like so many public universities, faces severe underfunding, and that in many cases they had no choice but to work with the companies who would give them the best deal. Unlike the conflation of minor and major issues, which primarily skews the perception of those on the outside, this omission of context has skewed the perception of those on the inside. Instead of seeing this situation as a case of an underfunded university doing its best with the money it has, students have started talking about how these challenges are purposeful, that the dorms are a rip-off and a scam, and that the university only cares about taking our money and cutting corners.
This kind of mistrust is, quite frankly, toxic. For one, it’s groundless; there is no tangible proof that these issues are deliberate. Moreover, there is now an attitude among students that the school doesn’t care about students’ well-being, and that any and all official responses to any and all student concerns are, at least to some extent, disingenuous—and with that attitude in mind, students will not give the school the opportunity to change. An opportunity which it deserves, because there is tangible proof that the school is trying. After the article went live, all residents received an email from Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman. In the email, Newman described the school’s plans to address many of the issues on which Ms. Krantz reported, inconveniences and safety concerns alike. Newman also introduced a new live hotline where students could contact her office directly, as well as a new student advisory board specifically for housing. Finally, Newman personally visited the West Residence Hall to ensure that the new security measures had been implemented properly. The Housing department also reacted swiftly; they asked that all of the RAs hold floor meetings to take notes on the students’ concerns. I was impressed by the professionalism, efficiency, and grace the administration displayed in handling this situation. It was an example of good leadership, and it is unfortunate that there are students who believe it to be nothing more than a PR move. Any environment where people ignore verifiable good in favor of unsubstantiated malice is unhealthy.
Living in the Residence Halls has changed my life. All of my closest friends here are residents, and our social lives revolve around eating together in the Dining Commons and hanging out in the floor lounges. Living on campus has saved me time and money because I don’t have to commute, and after taking a gap year where I had my own apartment and had to make my own meals and pay my own bills, I can attest to how much weight living on campus has taken off my shoulders. The absence of those responsibilities affords me the luxury of time for study, and that benefits me academically. These academic, social, and logistical benefits were the university’s goals in creating a residential program. Yes, there are challenges, as there have been with every new endeavor in human history, but that does not negate the fact that the dorms are ultimately serving their purpose. I hope that, in this transitional period, the community can come together and support each other, so that the residential program can learn from its mistakes, fix its problems, and become an even more positive experience.