On Nov. 22, the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) sent an email to all students announcing that housing for January Term (J-Term) will be limited and only available to students who meet determined criteria. The email also outlined expected arrival and departure dates for the end of the semester, the start of J-Term, and the start of the spring semester. The announcement’s policies, which differ from previous years, left many students blindsided and frustrated, as the news of limited housing and belated announcement of departure and arrival expectations disrupted many’s already-set plans for Winter Recess.
At the news of the announcement, students began expressing their concerns in the campus-wide GroupMe chat, Amherst Bussin. “The window to arrive for J-term is super narrow, what happens if we get here early? Will we not be able to get into our dorms?” asked Isaac Streiff ’24 on Nov. 27. “That’s what it’s sounding like to me, I rescheduled my flight,” Jay Baldwin ’25 responded.
Many students had reached out to Housing Operations about their individual situations, but reported in the group chat that they had gotten no response. After one student sent a message about their lack of email response in the chat, around five other students responded that they had not received responses to their questions either. “At this point we need another strategy, emails aren’t working obviously,” Christian Daniels ’23 wrote to the chat on Dec. 3.
On Sunday, Dec. 5, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) sent an email to Dean of Students Liz Agosto, laying out its “grave concerns about the timing and content of this email.” The AAS’s central concerns include the lateness of the announcement and the lack of flexibility in timing for leaving and returning to campus, citing students who have already purchased flight tickets and now cannot change their travel plans without additional financial cost and logistical planning. The letter also raised concerns about the lack of response students have received from Housing Operations after inquiring about the announcement, and the absence of student involvement in the decision process for these policies.
“What was the rationale behind restricting return dates given students’ varied academic and personal calendars? And why was this email sent out so late in the semester? What will the OSA do in the future to ensure that policies like this are well-communicated far in advance?” the letter asked.
In response to student concerns, the administration followed up with an email on Monday, Dec. 6, providing forms to request a late departure or alternative J-Term arrival date. “Ultimately, the single move-in date did not match up with a wide range of programs/opportunities students hoped to engage in during the January term. Early this week a new form for alternate arrival dates was sent out and students are able to identify other reasons for returning to campus,” said Agosto in a statement to The Student. “We do not anticipate denying an alternate arrival date but we do ask students to plan their travel to move in during the testing center hours or to be prepared to quarantine in their rooms until they are able to receive a negative test result.”
Phillip Zhou ’24, who holds a job doing research on campus, told The Student that he could not make the J-Term arrival date of Jan. 2 due to a prior commitment. “I had already booked a flight for later that week, and thus, it seemed like [doing research over] January Term would force me into either changing my flight and coming early, or not participating in January Term at all,” he said. “Since I’m working on campus doing research, I can’t do lab work at home, so it really was an ‘either or’ situation for me.”
Nina Krasnoff ’23 personally emailed Agosto after receiving the email and shared her situation and need to stay on campus over J-Term. “It took her a while to respond but she … said she would let Housing [Operations] know she approved me to be on campus,” she said.
Zhou also reached out to the administration after receiving the news. “My experiences have not been too positive, as I sent an email concerning this issue that never got a response, until they then proceeded to send out a form for those who would arrive at January Term late,” he said. “It would have been nice if those on ResLife [the Office of Residential Life] considered this possibility and implemented it in the first place, which would have made the process of figuring out my J-Term plans less stressful.”
Regarding communication with students, Agosto said, “The Housing Operations staff is working very hard to respond to all of the messages they are receiving about move-out, January Term, and spring housing … We recognize the frustration students are experiencing and are continuously working toward improving communication to reduce confusion.”
The Student Affairs Operations team, she elaborated, is a new team that was established during summer 2021. “Their goal is to create consistent and clear processes for students, [and] many of these processes will need to be recreated or modified to reflect any continued health protocols, housing and storage constraints, and other pressure points.”