Posted at 11 a.m. Feb. 6, 2017

Homeless for the holidays

Flag Raising

During Winter Break, Laramie County Community College’s residence halls had a 10-day closure, during which all residents had to leave the premises.

As a resident student of LCCC, I was upset to hear I was obligated to stay somewhere else for 10 days. Thankfully, I had family near Cheyenne willing to let me stay with them during this closure. However, this isn’t always an option with all students.

I originally moved into the dorms primarily to avoid commuting from my parents’ home in Carpenter every day. Over the course of my stay, I began to view the dorms as my home. To me, the 10-day closure was like living in an apartment and having the landlord say, “All right, we’re closing the apartment building for a while. Out you go.” What about international students, or students that simply don’t have a place to stay?

On a notice sent out to resident students and posted on the doors of their dorm rooms, there was a list of hotels and their respective prices. I can’t speak for every resident student, but I’m sure not everyone has the funds to afford living at a hotel for 10 days.

LCCC Director of Residential Living and Student Conduct Shaun O’Malley said, “What students pay to live in the residence hall doesn’t cover typical breaks—semester break, spring break or Thanksgiving break. So you’re only paying to live in the residence hall for eight months.”

Currently, the options available to students moving into the dorms is rather limited. There is the choice to live in a room in the West building or a more expensive room in the East/North building. One can also choose a standard room with a roommate, a private room, or a super single, in which one student has the entire dorm. Even then, there’s no guarantee the room will be available. Finally, students can choose between paying for residential living for a semester or a full school year.

“You don’t pay to live here over breaks,” O’Malley said. “I still have utilities that I have to cover, so if no one’s here, then we can shut off as many lights as possible. The water isn’t being used. The gas and the fireplace aren’t being used.”

“In the future, if we need to move to a 12-month system we can do that,” O’Malley said. “But we’ll probably have to charge students more to be here over the break and we’ll have to employ staff to go check in on the students and make sure they’re OK.”

I personally think a 12-month system is a great idea, or at least the option to pay for this system. I think students should be able to pay for the option to stay during certain breaks. This fee can help pay for utilities and the staff that also stay over break.

This is essentially what they did during Winter Break. After the 10 days, they allowed students to return if they chose to, but with a fee of $10 per day.

“We had about 30-40 students move back early, using electricity and stuff like that, so that’s why we charged (the fee) is to make up the cost that you guys don’t pay for the rest of the year,” O’Malley said.

I’m sure if an option similar to this was available to students for other breaks, it would get used by enough students to compensate the cost of the dorms staying open.

Additionally, O’Malley said some time away from the residence hall is a good thing.

“It’s good to get away from the residence hall,” O’Malley said. “I think it’s extremely important to get away from campus – get away from Cheyenne just to have a different experience.”

“I wasn’t here; I went home to Tennessee,” O’Malley said. “It’s important for everyone to take a break. I’m on call 24/7/365; it actually says that in my contract, so being able to take that time to go home and get away from Cheyenne as well is important.”

Although O’Malley stands by the closure and his reasons for it, he said he understands that it was an inconvenience for students.

“We tried to let students know way in advance,” O’Malley said. “We gave students 47 days’ notice and the information was everywhere.”

“I knew that there were a few students that had some concerns and I just encouraged them to come talk to me; to just come and have that conversation and we’d work something out.”

Out of curiosity, I asked Administrative Assistant of Residential Living and Learning Karen Wentroble if there were any other students suggesting a 12-month system or giving complaints about leaving during breaks. Wentroble said she hasn’t heard any suggestions for a 12-month system since she came to LCCC in 2009.

Despite being an outlier on this topic, I truly think if the option for year-round residential living were available, it would be used by a decent percentage of students in the dorms. It’s certainly an option I’d pick over spending hundreds of dollars on a hotel room over breaks.