Students face mental health struggles in random room assignments after returning from off-campus NU programs


Katie Chen/The Daily Northwestern

After returning from off-campus programs, several students were reassigned to new dormitories.

Erica Schmitt, Digital Managing Editor

While some students spent Winter Quarter in San Francisco and others were in Washington D.C., many came back to campus with the same problem: an uncomfortable new living situation. 

When students embarked on Northwestern’s winter off-campus programs, including the Bay Area Immersion Program and Medill on the Hill, they moved out of their on-campus residences. Since their return, they’ve been assigned to new dorms. 

Some students and their former chosen roommates said they faced mental health challenges after experiencing significant changes to their living situations.

Medill sophomore Emiliana Betancourt attended Medill on the Hill this winter. Prior to the program, she lived with her friends in a Schapiro Hall suite.

Betancourt called Residential Services in Fall Quarter with concerns about losing her room. She said Residential Services seemed uninterested in helping her navigate her problem.

“If a student is calling you in distress, don’t be mean about it,” Betancourt said. “I just feel like they aren’t really here for the students.” 

One of Betancourt’s concerns was storing her belongings. As an international student from Venezuela, she said she had to pack large bags and almost all of her things with her to D.C.

McCormick sophomore Rishi Kothari is an international student from Mumbai. Before attending the Bay Area Immersion Program, Kothari said he had to move his stuff to an off-campus storage unit a mile away with no personal vehicle to help him with the move.

“Some people are able to go home and stuff. But all my stuff is here in the University and stays within Evanston always,” Kothari said. 

He said that he thinks Residential Services should offer accommodations, like on-campus storage options, to international students. Otherwise, international students face increased barriers to off-campus program offerings. 

After coming back this quarter, Kothari moved from a Foster-Walker Complex single to a Sargent Hall double. Kothari said he was annoyed by the inconvenience of moving elsewhere.

“I would think that if someone’s lived in a certain situation for a certain period of time, they should be able to request that particular room and get preference so it doesn’t disrupt their lifestyle,” Kothari said. “It could affect my academics. It could affect my social life.”

Despite requesting a room change back to a single, Kothari said Residential Services said they were “unable to fulfill the request even with his accommodations.”

In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Jon Yates said students are required to cancel their housing contracts during quarters where they are off campus so they don’t have to pay for the vacant room. Because of high occupancy rates in dorms, he said there is a “high likelihood” vacated spaces will be assigned to a different student.

Betancourt said she struggled with the new room assignment she was given on March 2: an Allison Hall double. In her freshman year, she said she was also assigned a random roommate in spring quarter, which brought challenges.

“I’m not going through the, ‘Let’s do a Russian roulette and see if this roommate is going to get along with me or not’ again,” Betancourt said.

Requiring that students cancel their housing contract during quarters abroad also affects the roommate left behind. 

Even though Communication sophomore Andrew Chang stayed on campus through Winter Quarter, his former roommate attended Medill on the Hill. His resulting housing problems meant he changed rooms on Feb. 10.

Chang initially lived in 1838 Chicago Ave. The day before he arrived back to campus for Winter Quarter, he received an email from a new, randomly assigned roommate.

Yates said in most cases, roommate reassignments are made through housing software that accounts for student preferences and answers to lifestyle questions that account for sleeping and living habits. 

Still, Chang said he faced mental health challenges and was unable to get proper sleep or function well in the new environment after his new roommate moved in.

“I want to live with someone that I know, someone that I can live comfortably with,” Chang said. “Once it was with a random person, that’s where I feel like that went away.” 

Chang made the request to change dorms the first day he was back on campus Winter Quarter, but had to wait five weeks until he could move out to a Plex single. Chang said the process was expedited because of his accommodations, but he still had to wait five weeks before feeling comfortable in his own space.

Chang said his Plex single still has bare walls –– seven weeks later –– because of the stress of the moving process.

“It’s been so much of an ordeal just to move in and get all my things from one place to another,” Chang said.  “We’re at this point that we’re not going to try to live together again (on campus), which is really sad because he’s one of my closest friends.”

Betancourt was reassigned to housing she preferred on March 9. She said she is grateful she got to make the change, but knows many other students that faced difficulties with housing. 

Betancourt said she hopes Residential Services considers the impact moving has on students in the Bay Area and Medill on the Hill programs going forward, especially for sophomores who have to live on campus.

“Sophomore year, if you’re living with someone, it’s sometimes because you guys went out of your way to live together and this was somebody that you knew you were going to feel comfortable with,” Betancourt said. “I think that Residential Services needs to respect that.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @eschmitt318

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