December 4, 2015

Student Assembly Addresses Study Abroad Costs, Housing Lottery and Veterans’ Center

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The Student Assembly passed resolutions promising to address cost barriers to study abroad programs, reconfigure the housing lottery and create a veterans’ resource center at a meeting Friday in Rockefeller Hall.

Parliamentarian Jordan Berger ’17 identified three main barriers she said prevent Cornell students from participating in study abroad programs, asserting that those reasons “all come back to money.”

Berger said students are deterred from the study abroad experience by tuition cost, a struggle to find subletters for apartments in Ithaca and the cost of plane tickets and other travel expenditures. She also stressed that Cornell does not continue provision of financial aid to students who choose to study abroad in the summer, a policy she said harms those students who for academic or extracurricular reasons do not feel they can go abroad for a full semester.

“The $2,500 fee to study abroad used to be $5,000, so that shows that Cornell has played with the cost before,” Berger said. “We haven’t been able to meet with the trustees yet but the Cornell Study Abroad Office can’t explain why the fee is still this high.”

Berger and other S.A. members said they were committed to push for both increased transparency and lower costs to incentivize participation in the study abroad program, also suggesting Cornell provide more scholarships to those eager to go abroad.

S.A. representative at large Gabe Kaufman ’18 also proposed a resolution to restructure the housing lottery, calling the current system complicated and stressful.

“Under the current system, students have to make friends quickly based on desirability of timeslot and that creates a weird power dynamic,” Kaufman said. “In this new system, students would choose who they want to block with before they figure out what their time slot will be.”

This new method of selecting housing recognizes the value of students living with their friends and the potential mental health problems that arise when they cannot choose their living situation in a fair way, according to Kaufman.

The S.A. also unanimously passed a resolution recommending the creation of a veterans’ resource center after hearing supporting arguments from Seamus Murphy ’16, President of Cornell’s Undergraduate Veterans Association.

“When I got to Cornell, I bounced around and didn’t know where to go for help,” Murphy said. “When the rubber meets the road, there’s no infrastructure in place to address the issues many veterans face.”

Approximately 62 percent of veteran students at Cornell are the first in their families to attend college, compared to 42 percent of students in the general student body, according to Murphy. Murphy also said he believes this statistic demonstrates that veterans should receive additional support and advisement from the University.

“It’s a drastic change of pace to transition from the military to a college setting,” Murphy said. “We should have a place to speak about our experiences, a place to call our own.”

Murphy listed the complex financial aid process and the unique career opportunities available to veterans as topics which can be hard to navigate, calling for increased University support.
“In a way it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that there is such a small population of veterans at Cornell,” Murphy said. “This resource center and its staff would be a huge help in beginning to address a lot of these issues.”