Setting an early alarm, stepping outside, possibly walking a couple of blocks and wrapping yourself in a blanket to watch the sun come up over the Long Island Sound; taking your workouts down to the beach; or, most definitely, having different company with you each night as you watch another day of your senior year come to an end with the sunset.
Those are all activities that many Fairfield University students await from their very first days on campus — senior year spent living at the beach.
Many members of the current junior class, the Class of 2022, were denied release from campus this year.
Living on the beach as a senior is a heavily advertised aspect of the University’s campus life. In tours, tour guides always mention the beach.
Junior Olivia Alessandro, a campus tour guide shared, “I was instructed to mention the option of living off-campus during senior year.”
In the past, she made sure every tour included that the process to be released from campus was easy, and beach housing was available to most seniors who wanted it.
It should be noted that Fairfield University is a school that guarantees four year housing for all students. In order to live off campus, students must be released from the agreement they sign upon enrollment. Only in a student’s senior year is there the possibility of being released from that agreement.
The University’s reasons in defense of their decision to not release all students who applied for the Off-Campus Boarder Lottery have not been enough to combat the disappointment felt by the junior class.
This process is a randomized lottery system that sorts through applications for release. While it has always operated in that manner, students this year have been vocal about their desires for the system to be merit-based, especially if there are going to be more students denied than in the past.
Junior Jack Stalzer, a Fairfield University Student Association senator and one of the 47 students still on the waitlist for release, found the randomness of the selection process frustrating.
“Other schools don’t always do that,” Stalzer said. “If you’re an engaged student in a lot of clubs, they’ll give you priority to pick.”
Junior Allison Lawless was initially denied release, but when students from the waitlist got released on March 10, she was relieved to find her senior year would be as she had imagined for so long. However, the waiting game and the stress it caused has led Lawless to support a merit-based system for release as well.
“We’re good kids,” is what Lawless shares she was thinking in her head over and over after she and her future housemates were denied release. She cited how they are all in good academic standing and have never been in trouble with the university, so it didn’t make sense to them that they were being slighted.
It is likely a product of the timing of this situation that has caused this common opinion.
With the COVID-19 protocols that have been in place this past year, there have been groups of individuals who have not been compliant, and the fact that those students, some of whom faced punishment from administration, have been released over other students has been seen as unfair by many students.
Another point of frustration for students is the sense of false advertising they now feel surrounds the opportunity to live on the beach. Lawless is one of many students who admits that the prospect of living on the beach senior year was a major pull in choosing to attend Fairfield.
Lawless shared that Fairfield was among her top choices, and that “it [living at the beach] was the main reason that I came to Fairfield.”
Stalzer shared that his frustration only grew recently when he watched the virtual tour video for Fairfield University and it cites that “upperclassmen have the unique opportunity to live off campus near Fairfield beach.”
“I had no such opportunity,” Stalzer said.
Stalzer also shared that he feels the timing is unwise as the situation is “leaving a bitter taste in my mouth right as I’m leaving Fairfield.”
Students are angry because they have always felt that living off campus, on the beach, their senior year is a rite of passage that they were promised to receive if desired. And, with the past year that everyone has faced, it seems to be even more idealized in the minds of students.
However, it should be noted that the University has never claimed that living on the beach is guaranteed.
Associate Dean and Director of the Office of Residence Life Meredith Smith shared via email that, “Our office and the Dean of Students communicated that the Off-Campus Boarder process is a lottery. We encourage students to not sign leases until they know they have been released from their four-year residential contract.”
Despite that advice, most students begin looking at houses and signing leases before they are released due to the pressure felt by other looking and limited houses in prime locations.
Lawless started looking for a house the first semester of her sophomore year, and signed a lease shortly after.
“I had to do that,” Lawless said. “It’s very difficult to get a beach house that is close to the beach if you don’t do it that early.”
Of the suggestion from Fairfield to hold off on signing leases, Lawless added: “If you wait that long, there is a large possibility that you’re not even going to get a beach house.”
ResLife also states that, while this seems to be the first year that students are obviously upset, feeling that this is a random change to a pre-established tradition, this year is not unorthodox in comparison to years past.
“It is important to note that this year’s process isn’t that much different from years’ in the past,” Smith wrote. “In my ten years working in the Office of Residence Life, we’ve had other Off-Campus lotteries where we were not able to release all the students who applied to the number of students who applied.”
The factor to consider, which is what makes the problem stand out more, is that as class numbers rise, the amount of applications for release grow. Consequently, the denials do as well.
“This year more students applied to live off-campus than had done in recent history,” Smith shared. “There are limited spaces in and around the Fairfield beach area.”
Smith also shared that, this year, over 700 students applied for the Off-Campus Boarder Lottery. Around 600 students were originally released. Following some students’ decline of their release, an additional 50 students were released in March. There are still 47 students on the waitlist.
According to the Fairfield University 2020-2021 Fact Book, in the current academic school year, there are 572 students living off campus in the beach area. Additionally, the Fall of 2018 saw 582 students living on the beach. Since the numbers of those released have been stable in past years, it can be assumed that the issue is that the class years are growing, meaning more students apply and therefore are denied release.
Lawless cited that she believed over-admittance was likely the cause of this year’s housing situation. Therefore she saw the denial of release as “a problem that they [the University] foresaw.”
She feels that because of this, there should have been more of a warning given to the students, possibly even before applications to the lottery were submitted.
Another solution that Lawless proposed was in reference to the practices at Bucknell University, where students are provided a list of landlords that are aware of the school’s rules and therefore allow students to sign leases that are “contingent upon impending release.”
This would prevent much of the stress felt by students when it comes to the fear of losing a security deposit on a house, as many students sign leases throughout their sophomore year and junior years, before being released. Thus, after signing and paying, they can only hope they are lucky in the lottery process.
Stalzer agreed that the “lack of emails” and the “vague updates” from the University are the most frustrating.
“They [the University] don’t give us a lot of information,” Stalzer shared, even though students are sending emails and reaching out, they feel the answers they receive are unsatisfactory.
This is felt by other members of the junior class as well. Alessandro ‘22 was released in the initial lottery. However, she is aware of the problem and has since altered the way she talks about senior year on the beach when she is giving tours.
While remaining positive, Alessandro said, “I don’t think we were told to change what we say, but I do mention that they [the University] have a release process so they know how many students are leaving each year.”
“I always mention that you can live on campus senior year, and that it is pretty split with how many students live on and off campus,” Alessandro continued.
She wants to make sure that is understood by prospective students, since she knows that the beach living is “a big selling point” for the University.
Many underclassmen are worried that the housing situation with the Class of 2022 will be a problem when it comes to their chances to live on the beach, or about losing money that they have already put down for security deposits and leases they have signed.
Sophomore Megan MacGilvray shared via email, “I feel bad for these kids considering they probably have had their leases signed for a while and were fully anticipating being on the beach for senior year.” She continued, “The thought of it happening to me is quite scary because my friends and I put lots of time and money into signing our lease and securing our house.”
Even for students who don’t necessarily have a direct connection with the beach yet can feel the impact of this issue as a whole.
As reported by the Mirror on March 31, 35 rising junior groups were told they would be unable to participate in the initial lottery, and were pushed to the secondary lottery.
Upon hearing that information, students awaiting release, like Stalzer, believe that releasing seniors could be a solution to that problem, opening more space on campus for underclassmen. However, ResLife would likely have to take more factors into consideration when making that decision.
Being able to live on the beach is something that most students at Fairfield anticipate for years. Students are hoping that those remaining on the waitlist will, in the end, be able to at the beach as planned. In the meantime, students on the waitlist, like Stalzer, will continue to voice their concerns.
“We are angry, and I hope the University knows this,” Stalzer said.
That being said, Smith of Reslife shared: “At this time, we are not anticipating an additional release. We will have more information mid-summer and will continue to provide students with an update.”
That update arrived Tuesday afternoon, April 20. An email from ResLife was sent to students on the waitlist, reading: “After careful consideration, we will be moving forward with releasing the remainder of the waitlist to off-campus status.”
Students were sent two google forms, to either accept or decline their release, and that decision must be made by May 4.
In the end, all students from the class of 2022 who hoped to live on the beach their senior year will be given that opportunity.