In light of the current housing shortage for Fall Quarter 2021, student groups at UC Santa Barbara such as UC Santa Barbara for Cost of Living Adjustment — otherwise known as UCSB 4 COLA — and Organize Isla Vista are raising awareness about the housing crisis, a lack of remote learning options and the possibility of COVID-19 outbreaks as UCSB begins in-person operations for the first time since March 2020. 

UCSB 4 COLA — an organization originally created to strike for liveable wages for graduate students — has pivoted its focus to organizing a response to the housing crisis with the teacher assistant union, Santa Barbara United Auto Workers (SB UAW) 2865. UCSB 4 COLA also partnered with Organize Isla Vista for a coordinated response to the housing crisis. 

Addressing the housing crisis and demanding for an online option is currently Organize I.V.’s top priority, said Declan Griffin, a third-year political science major and one of four organizers for Organize I.V.

The mutual aid organization began with a yard sale, in which the resulting revenue was used to fund a self-defense class in Isla Vista. 

“In almost any college town, there are going to be aggressors and attackers, so we want to make people feel more safe and have more peace of mind. The problem of self-defense ties into many issues,” Griffin said. 

In August 2021, organizers for Organize I.V. focused their resources on combating the housing crisis, putting the self-defense classes on temporary hold. 

Organize I.V. — along with other student groups — shared a survey on Instagram asking students about their fall housing plans. By the end of August, 1350 students responded with 28% of respondents having no housing plans for the 2021-22 school year, according to Organize I.V. ‘s Declaration on Ensuring a Safe Return to Campus Fall 2021.

In the survey, Organize I.V. proposed that the university implement an online option to stabilize the housing crisis. 

“We think that if people were offered an online option, it’d give people more time to find housing instead of coming here homeless. That was the biggest way to alleviate stress for anyone who is having health or economic concerns about returning to campus,” said Emma Rose, a third-year global studies major and organizer for Organize I.V.

Organize I.V. has received endorsements from UCSB professors, organizations, student groups and Academic Senate offices for their efforts in the housing crisis. Their demand for an online option, however, has not been addressed by the administration. 

“The whole time has been lackluster, a lot of covering their butts and nonanswers. It’s a big reason why we find ourselves in this crisis. One of the excuses that UCSB likes to use is that third and fourth years were banking on another quarter of online classes and they were allowed to bank on that because UCSB didn’t have a concrete plan of what was happening,” Griffin said. 

The university’s Academic Senate held a virtual town hall meeting on Sept. 13 where they addressed reopening plans regarding the status of building ventilation, percentages of vaccinated staff and students, setting up potential dual instruction for classrooms, addressing suicide and mental health, student death, implementations of mask mandates and COVID-19 regulations on campus. 

Divisional Academic Senate Chair and Chemistry Professor Susannah Scott said at the town hall that UCSB is not made for online instruction. For the past 18 months, the institution has been under a waiver granted by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges to function under emergency remote teaching due to the pandemic. The waiver expires after Fall Quarter 2021, which led the university to plan for in-person instruction once again.

Despite the assurances given at the town hall, many viewers felt a lack of sincerity and seriousness in addressing their concerns. 

“I agree with what everyone has been saying about the town hall meeting, that the concern wasn’t really there. The dangers and effects of reopening have been toned down and not taken seriously,” an anonymous union member said during a SB UAW 2865 meeting.

“The Santa Barbara branch of the [SB UAW 2865] union represents TAs, associate instructors, tutors and readers across the University of California. Generally, SB UAW 2865 exists to fight for better working conditions for academic student-workers at UCSB,” as shared by SB UAW 2865 Unit Chair Micah Pedrick. 

Chancellor Henry T. Yang announced during the town hall meeting that UCSB was able to offer campus housing options to every undergraduate student including first-year, second-year and transfer students throughout the months of July and August. 

According to Yang, there are 545 students still without housing as of Sept. 12, but 483 students were sent offers. 

Regarding in-person instruction and COVID-19, Yang said that UCSB has been monitoring the COVID-19 case rates in Santa Barbara County and reassured viewers that the university is taking campus protective and preventative measures.

As of Sept. 13, there is a 94% overall vaccine compliance between students, faculty and staff, Yang said. Additionally, there is a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, a daily symptom screening, a COVID-19 testing program for those who are unvaccinated and seeking tests, and building ventilation that exceeds state requirements. 

Organize I.V. and UCSB 4 COLA are urging transparency and flexibility from the administration to ensure better communication between the university and its students in the future. 

“In the future, one of our goals is for people to not be scared to ask for things from the administration to get what they need. The administration needs to be willing to change and talk to people and make the college experience better for people wanting to attend,” Rose said. 

A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Sept. 23, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.