Julia Nagel/Sun Senior Photographer

Cornell Housing called rising juniors and seniors to measure interest in canceling contracts.

April 18, 2024

Investigation: Cornell Housing Grants Student Employees Access to Over 1,000 Students’ Personal Information

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After General Room Selection between March 11-13, some rising sophomores were not assigned housing for the 2024-2025 academic year despite it being guaranteed to them. Housing and Residential Life turned to Cornell Dining employees to help in their outreach effort to rising juniors and seniors planning to live on campus next year — who are not guaranteed housing — to confirm their housing plans in an attempt to create room availability for waitlisted rising sophomores. 

Housing and Residential Life joined forces with Cornell Dining to “reach out to confirm housing contracts with rising juniors and rising seniors who had signed housing licenses in the fall” in order to finish assigning rooms for rising sophomores and plan for incoming first-year students and transfers, according to the department’s statement to The Sun provided by Lindsey Knewstub, a representative of Cornell Media Relations.

Housing and Residential Life used a “peer-to-peer” approach to personally contact students on behalf of Housing and Residential Life, offering dining student workers up to $75 per shift in Cornell Dining Bonus Bucks — which can be used like Big Red Bucks — in addition to their hourly wage for each hour of calling students between March 21-22 and April 9-10. 

Although these windows have passed, The Sun has found that over 60 dining workers still retain access to personal information belonging to over 1,800 students.

Former dining employee Elliot Scheuer ’27 — who accepted the job opportunity — told The Sun that Housing and Residential Life provided participating students with two scripts, one for voicemail and one for when the student picked up. Scheuer admittedly accepted the job because it was an “easy hour” for $50 Bonus Bucks, especially since most students did not answer their calls. 

But Scheuer was alarmed by the extensive spreadsheet Housing and Residential Life shared with participating student-employees, which contained personal information about rising juniors and seniors living on campus next academic year.

The spreadsheet listed students’ names, mobile phone numbers, seven-digit student IDs, dorm locations and room numbers, housing contract statuses, net IDs, gender and class years. The spreadsheet also included a section for dining workers to record students’ updated housing plans.

As of Sunday, Scheuer told The Sun that they still have access to the document, despite no longer working for Housing and Residential Life.

“It’s not like [Housing and Residential Life] removed access after your shift,” Scheuer said. “I still get updates that the spreadsheet is being updated even though I took one shift two weeks ago.”

Scheuer felt that giving participating workers this information posed security threats, emphasizing that allowing students access to others’ personal information without restrictions or redaction could present privacy and safety violations.

Scheuer felt uncomfortable possessing this information and was also surprised at its seemingly negligent handling by Housing and Residential Life. They suggested that they could have created an adaptive spreadsheet with students’ names and numbers and granted only temporary access to participating dining workers to prevent potential mishandling.  

“It did feel a little weird that not even a mention was said to keep this confidential,” Scheuer said. “If the wrong person got this spreadsheet — this is a lot of information about students.”

However, Sophia Wu ’27 — who also participated in the calling job — felt the procedure was productive in assigning housing to rising sophomores on the housing waitlist. Wu is compassionate toward the students who did not receive housing, as many of her friends were affected. 

“As a rising sophomore, there are so many people who did not get housing,” Wu said. “It’s urgent, … so I understand why [Housing and Residential Life is] doing [the partnership.]”

After The Sun informed them about the access dining workers have to this sensitive document, some students, including Rory Paltridge ’26, echoed Scheuer’s safety and privacy concerns. 

“I can definitely see questions of student privacy and the potential for some workers to use their access to this spreadsheet for ill intent,” Paltridge said. “In really extreme cases, it could definitely lead to some scary behavior that would be very difficult to mitigate.”

Varsha Gande ’26 also felt uneasy about the amount of information other students had access to about her.

“I think it is a little strange that students can see where we live, and I hope that it is not shared with others in the future,” Gande said.

Correction, April 18, 12:12 p.m.: A previous version of this article used incorrect pronouns when referring to a source. The Sun deeply apologizes for this error.