A Broken Hart

An influx of students requesting on-campus housing has caused a divide among the Hart Hall community, where traditional IST residents are learning to live among two floors of students not enrolled in their community-based program.

This school year, most of Hart Hall’s fourth floor, and half of it’s second, will be populated by transfer students who have not enrolled in its unique IST program, which has previously been mandatory for all residents. The program requires each student resident to fulfill a ten hour community service requirement, as well as attend and write a one-page essay about six approved events each semester. The exemption of transfer students on the second and forth floors is angering some of Hart’s IST-enrolled residents. "It isn’t fair," said Ester Akinbolou, a junior marketing major who also lives in the building. "I’m very disappointed. I feel like being in Hart is kind of a privilege…we do extra work to live in a nicer environment." Another student, Andrei Michalski, shares that opinion. "This is a good hall because people make a commitment to live here… and if you don’t make a commitment, you won’t feel as obligated to keep this as nice of a place," she said.

Ultimately, the decision to house transfer students not enrolled in the IST program in Hart was made in order to alleviate an on-campus housing shortage, said Associate Provost Rameen Mohammadi. Without otherwise adequate space available, Res. Life decided in mid-July to fill two floors in Hart Hall with transfer students who would not be enrolled in the IST program, said Kolenda. That meant students who were already booked to live on the second and fourth floor were notified that they would be moved into other spaces in Hart. "This was done in a collaboration of residence affairs and student affairs," said Mohammadi. But Greg Parsons, faculty director of Hart Hall’s IST program, disagrees. "I would have liked to have been [consulted]; I always have been in the past… Had I been consulted I would have been opposed to it," said Parsons, who claims he was only informed of the decision after it had been made.

He said that even though Hart was underbooked in the summer, past experience shows that it would have filled up with enrolled students by the end of the first week of classes—an assertion confirmed by sources familiar with the matter. However, according to Kolenda, this is just not true; he claims the building has never been full with a waiting list. He defends his decision not to consult Parsons saying that he went over Parsons’ head. "This was a global decision that, because we were talking to Dr. Mohammedi, as far I’m concerned, we were talking to the boss," said Kolenda.

"I have had three people come to me personally and say that they wanted to be in Hart Hall and that they were turned away," Parsons said. He also suggested that, instead of the current set-up in Hart, e-mails could be sent to all Oswego State students in triples asking if they might want to switch into Hart; but Parsons said his plan wasn’t given a chance.

"I was told students would have one week to respond back and then they [Res. Life] would have to act, they would have to move students off the floors. I got permission to waive the essay because of the short time frame," he said. But according to Parsons, e-mails to students living in triples were sent on Friday, and the second round of e-mails, informing residents of the second and fourth floor that they had been moved, were sent on the following Tuesday. This meant that students living in triples actually had less than five days to respond to Parsons’ offer.

Kolenda responds by saying that the undertaking brought less than 10 students into Hart’s IST program, and that no students were ever turned away from the building.
But accounts such as Parsons’ have led many to believe that Res. Life is engaged in a ploy to dissolve Hart’s IST program altogether. They say this could be just the first step.

"To erode any system, all you have to do is put forth a set of guidelines that everyone is required to obey, and then have a group be exempt from those rules," says Rebecca Burch, a psychology professor who lives in Hart Hall. "This is exactly what Res.Life has done."

Students have also expressed that sentiment. "I personally support the program," said Zach Keddell, a ninth floor resident enrolled in IST. "But I know that Res. Life is trying to [mess up] the building by moving in students who are not in the program… It’s just word of mouth: everybody knows."

Supporters of this theory point to several students international students in Oneida Hall who have requested rooms in Hart Hall, but have been denied. "A number of international students were put in Oneida who want to be in Hart," Burch said. "They are keeping IST students out of Hart and the non-IST students in."

"I had two international students come up to me, one of them in tears, who were living in Oneida," said Student Association President Christina Ballesteros. "They were just extremely uncomfortable… I made sure that they got on the waiting list, which they are now. It’s really up to Res. Life to push that… We’re really waiting on that right now."

But Gurdeep Skolnik, assistant director of International Student and Scholar Services, said that international students living in Oneida were given their choice of residence halls and specifically requested Oneida when applying for housing on Oswego State’s campus. She confirmed that there were six international students living in Oneida Hall.

Still the decision leaves questions for many. "I can’t really say what’s going on in Res.Life," Parsons said. "But do I think this is all about numbers of students overbooked? I don’t think so. There were other possible solutions to this problem and I suggested some." "If Res. Life cares about the IST program, it will act quickly to rebuild the integrity of the program," Burch said. "I ask them to prove that they support the program by taking immediate action on this issue." For his part, Kolenda denies any attempt to dissolve Hart’s IST program. "That has not ever been a thought, that we wanted to kill the program," said Kolenda. "However, the program began in 1998 and maybe what needs to happen is to revitalize the program, I don’t know…If students are not signing up for it maybe we need to find out what students do want… It’s not that we want to get rid of it; it’s that we want to make it right for students."

How all of this is going to affect students living in Hart is still largely unknown.The consensus remains though that tripling more rooms instead of putting students in Hart seem to the worst case scenario for everybody. "There was no room for us anywhere else…so why have two floors of free rooms when we’d be living in triples right now over on the other side of campus?" asks Justin Mastrangelo, a recent transfer from Finger Lakes Community College who said he felt unwelcome in Hart Hall. "I don’t mean them any harm. I didn’t want to live here, but I’m settled now and I’d like to be accepted as a neighbor to everybody else, just like I have accepted all of them."