(Photo Courtesy of Kyra Barry) “The current state of the Sheehy Hall basement ceiling.”
Saturday afternoon: a water pipe burst on the fourth floor of Sheehy Hall, extremely close to my dorm room. The entire building was immediately evacuated, and the residents of Sheehy in rooms damaged by water are still awaiting the plan for their housing.
Saturday night: all residents who were on campus were moved to Fox Hall and were encouraged to stay with family and friends for the night if they were able to. We were allowed back upstairs to grab medication or service animals, but have yet to receive communications on when we can access our belongings.
Beyond a group chat with our amazing Resident Advisors, the only formal communication we have received from the school in the 18 hours since the pipe burst was an email from the Office of Residence Life announcing that they will be entering my room to assess the damage. Any student who was not on campus Saturday night and may need to return Sunday night does not know what the plan will be.
While relocation processes will inevitably take time, there are 14 rooms in Sheehy whose residing students will need to be relocated. With most Sheehy rooms holding at least four students, and many holding six or eight, there are at least 50 (and potentially more than 100) residential students whose fate for the semester is up in the air. In the future, there must be a prepared fallback plan to be immediately communicated with all students in these incidents. This is not just a school problem, this is a housing problem.
I was at work when the pipe burst, and was able to spend the night elsewhere, which is where I will likely be able to stay indefinitely. However, I, as well as many people displaced, have more of an issue than just finding a place to temporarily stay. We need places to store our belongings. If we are being moved to Fox Hall, we need our parking passes updated to access East Campus parking lots. Many of us, myself included, will probably also still need access to the South lots, if we have a work schedule that demands us to leave directly from class, which UCaps does not normally allow.
These are all easy fixes, and I am confident that UMass Lowell will be able to make many of the necessary changes in the coming days of this crisis. However, the lack of preparation and plan for displaced students in advance needs to be addressed. This will not be the last time something like this happens, and I doubt it was the first either.
Most concerningly of this whole debacle is the content from a paragraph in an email from Residence Life. In this email, they said, “A reminder, UMass Lowell assumes no responsibility and provides no insurance or financial protection for student’s personal property. As you agreed to, you understand that you are fully responsible for your personal property and any damages you cause while living on campus.” While it is possible this is a canned statement, the rest of the email refers specifically to the water pipe debacle. If students are to be relocated to cheaper dorms and have our property damaged, we deserve financial compensation from the school. This is not damage that any of us caused, and UMass Lowell needs to rise to the occasion and take responsibility, instead of deflecting it to the students.