As the seasons change and students return to campus, the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the faults within UC Santa Barbara’s institutional apparatus, highlighting its crumbling accessibility infrastructure. The Disabled Students Program website maintains the campus provides “barrier free, modified, residential facilities,” but I question UCSB’s judgment in light of recent developments and decision making.
While UCSB’s campus features a generally leveled terrain, the 989-acre campus lacks geographical and technological accommodations necessary to meet all students’ needs. Its outdated facilities seem to discriminate against students with disabilities. Indeed, rather than working to improve these discrepancies, the university has opted to use monetary stipends as a compensation bandaid. For example, the Disabled Students Program (DSP) works with UCSB to refund money spent on Uber rides to campus up to a certain amount. While drop-off locations are unreliable at best, and actually maneuvering around campus is impossible with an unauthorized vehicle such as an Uber, this solution is noticeably pervious.
Further, when second-year Natalia Misra was temporarily physically handicapped for more than six weeks, she could not even access this service because she lacked proper documentation for her temporary injury. Misra had critical major classes that required attendance, and without alternatives to in-person exams Misra would have to file for an incomplete. This would greatly affect her ability to declare her major, forcing her to extend her tuition at UCSB. Rather than prioritize her physical and mental health, the university supplemented feasible solutions with airy promises.
Similarly, professors who enacted mandatory attendance policies create a new set of dilemmas within the pandemic-era learning experience. During fall quarter, sick students were forced to choose between missing participation points and valuable class information or the risk of infecting other students. With the move back to in-person classes, professors should uphold limited virtual options as a viable alternative to reduce either situation from occurring. Especially now as we move to in-person learning, I wonder why this option could not have been used for students either sick and/or suffering from a disability during fall quarter.
To make matters harrowingly worse, the housing crisis in Isla Vista has left students struggling to even make it to campus. Chancellor Henry T. Yang created the housing task force less than a month before the start of instruction in the fall. While chairmen on the task force worked with local hotels to provide housing “at the same subsidized cost a student would pay for an on-campus double,” students do not have nearly the same access to resources as those living in university housing. Students who lived in hotels this quarter lacked stable access to Wi-Fi, self-autonomy over their space, a sustainable place to study and access to campus resources without spending money on transportation. Some even lived in their cars.
The university’s lack of accreditation regarding the housing crisis is painfully obvious as UCSB has released few emails addressing an issue that has affected thousands of students.
On Sept. 24 UCSB sent an update informing the community on efforts to provide additional housing for returning students, citing the 4,500 bed-monstrosity that is Munger Hall. In this email, Yang and his task force blamed the lack of housing on the pandemic, saying that it allowed more people to move to Santa Barbara given remote working conditions. This assumes that most people move to Isla Vista by choice, when in reality moving to the half-renovated junkyard that is I.V. is often necessary to be academically successful at UCSB. As a result, more students cram themselves into leases each year to offset skyrocketing rent prices, hardly explaining the “less dense housing situations” UCSB maintained.
I find this accreditation statement to be incredibly tone deaf. Many students have lost loved ones, jobs and opportunities during the pandemic, leaving us without choices and without security in a lot of ways. The university using remote learning against us further ridicules our vulnerability.
While the announcement also stated the university declared “its intention to return to in-person learning for the fall quarter in February 2021, many students” were forced to restructure their housing plans as a result of the university’s indecision. As someone whose on-campus housing was revoked last year only two weeks before the start of the quarter, this frustrates me. The average cost of living in I.V. is $1,806 monthly, placing it in the top 7% of the most expensive cities in the world. Considering I.V. ‘s skyrocketing prices, being forced to make a financial obligation with little assurances and all around uncertainty from the university further discriminates against international students and students with less socioeconomic security.
Recently, the city of Goleta announced they are suing UCSB for their role in the housing crisis. The lawsuit comes as a result of UCSB’s failure to follow the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), which maintained the university would cap enrollment at 25,000 and build housing for 5,000 new students. However, in clear violation of the LRDP, UCSB enrolled 26,179 students in fall of 2020.
This over enrollment can be directly correlated to the housing crisis and the lack of services available on campus. Put simply, the university should admit the amount of students they have the capacity to prioritize. However, in direct contradiction to local and state news authorities, the university stated campus enrollment has not “exceeded the three-quarter average of 25,000 on-campus students,” created to project campus development until 2025.
Lack of technological and physical accommodations on campus are hardly reflective of the university’s supposed “excellent physical accessibility.” The lack of accessibility on campus reflects a wider issue that the campus must address — lack of access for people who cannot attend synchronous lectures. Indeed, those unable to secure housing due to this crisis only add to those who struggled to attend in-person classes last quarter.
After more than 18 months online, the rigid structure of in-person requirements limits the university’s ability to ensure equal access, according to Misra. At the very least, if attendance is once again mandatory in the future, there should be accommodations for students who are sick and/or have disabilities; or, attendance is not mandatory and extraneous allocations are made to substitute participation.
Further, UCSB’s unwillingness to accept responsibility in their meager accreditation announcements has resulted in a lawsuit that boils down to a lack of equal accessibility for students. It is the responsibility of the educational institution to provide housing for each student it admits, and as this issue continues to fester, the university must seriously re-evaluate their decision to admit 26,179 students. After analyzing the university’s actions with published statements, the disparity is reflected in student experiences like that of Misra. With hybrid learning becoming a distant echo, more students than ever before are having to decide between school and self-preservation.
If any member of our campus community is aware of a UC Santa Barbara student that is without housing, please contact University & Community Housing Services by phone at 805-893-4371 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kareena Dhillon believes the university’s degrading accessibility policies reflect its continued disregard for student well-being.