Grad students stage housing protest

Publication Date: Friday May 29, 1998

STANFORD: Grad students stage housing protest

Students sleep in tents in the Main Quad to dramatize the problem

About a thousand frustrated Stanford graduate students held a rally and a camp-in in the Main Quad Wednesday night, highlighting their complaints that there isn't enough campus housing for them and that their stipends aren't high enough to afford off-campus rents.

The university has already made commitments to build 400 additional units for graduate students over the next few years, but for students who have to commute long distances or compete for almost nonexistent affordable housing in the area, that isn't enough.

"We've been doing a lot of work, but there's a lot more to do," Provost Condoleezza Rice said while chatting with a half-dozen students on her way home before the rally began.

Rice heard personal stories of housing woe from several students.

The housing issue gained momentum among graduate students earlier this month after the Graduate Student Council and the student government published the results of a housing survey to which more than 2,000 graduate students responded.

While the university is responding to the housing crisis by accelerating plans to build new housing, the issue has taken on a life of its own and is being fueled by the frustrations of low-paid graduate students.

"Graduate housing concerns have been of enormous interest to the administration all year," Associate Provost Ann Fletcher said last week. "We know this is a big problem."

"It's unfortunate that we live in this area with this economy," fourth-year biology graduate student David Ardell told Rice before the rally. "The only thing to do is to build more housing on campus."

"We're trying to do that," Rice replied.

The rally was one of festive frustration as the students munched handout sandwiches--paid for by the student government--set up tents to sleep in and listened as several of their colleagues stepped to the microphone to tell personal stories of housing headaches.

Many of the students wore specially made T-shirts, which had a drawing of Hoover Tower surrounded by tents, and placards dotted the crowd--"Look ma, no housing," "Housing not included."

About 3,500 of Stanford's 7,400 graduate students are able to live on campus. Historically, many graduate students and upper-class undergraduates have preferred to live off campus, but that is becoming a less viable option in this housing market. Last fall, more than 800 graduate students applied for but did not receive campus housing, a number that is expected to rise next September.

"The situation is bad. People are dropping out, telling prospective (students) not to come here, or are living in vans," Doug Natelson, a fifth-year physics graduate student, told the crowd. "If they don't do something soon, they will have a hard time maintaining Stanford's place as a top-tier university."

After the rally, more than 150 students spent the night on the Quad, most of them in tents. Others slept under the arches while two students stayed in an oversize cardboard box, said Robert Rudnitsky, an applied physics graduate student. Technically, camping on the Quad is illegal, but Rice said the university wouldn't do anything to dislodge the students from a peaceful protest.

--Don Kazak 

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