'Look Ma, No Home!': Student Protest Targets Pricey Housing

Visions of Berkeley uprisings were dancing in my head as I walked up to the quad for the graduate housing rally.

Rather than waving fists and chanting voices, I saw instead hundreds of graduate students milling around, eating free sandwiches, and carrying signs that said things like "Look Ma! No Home!" and "Stanford: Bring your own tent." Voices over a loudspeaker announced that anyone who had something to share about the housing crisis should step up to the microphone.

Stanford University is located in one of the most expensive rent districts in California - perhaps in the country. A recent rent hike has landed studios and one-bedrooms at $1,000 (at least), and two-bedroom hovels fetch $1,300 easy. Stanford houses 40 percent of its graduate students in rent-subsidized apartments on campus. This is a higher percentage than is seen at most universities, but 40 percent is still not nearly enough in this housing market.

A significant fraction of the applications for campus housing were denied last spring, and frustrated students attended the rally to show the university that there really was a housing problem.

One student from the history department said she was often asked to help recruit new students to Stanford, but now that she needed help in this extreme housing market, she was being denied campus housing.

An international student explained that although he could perhaps find affordable housing in the towns further from campus, he did not own a car, had no funds to buy one, and there really isn't good public transportation available. A little girl stepped up to the mike and simply said, "Please! My mommy needs a home!" She got a lot of cheers.

The rally was organized by student members of the Graduate Housing Advisory Committee. Stephanie Toering, the chairwoman of GHAC, said that the goal of the rally was to make graduate- student concerns known "without being confrontational."

They succeeded admirably. Members of the administration mingled with the protesting students, calmly discussing the housing crisis from the administration's point of view.

They described the difficulty of obtaining building permits from the county, due to concerns about increased traffic congestion. They listened to students' suggestions about increasing stipend levels and instituting more-flexible housing policies. Reporters wandered through the crowd, trying to decide if this was a serious protest or just an excuse for a big outdoor party.

To emphasize the seriousness of the problem, 100 students camped out on the quad all night, despite El Nio rain and cold temperatures. In the morning, Provost Condelezza Rice addressed the slightly sleep-deprived students. She told them that the university was committed to solving the housing situation.

As a graduate student, I do sometimes feel like a second-class citizen on this campus. The lack of adequate housing is a symptom of how our needs are often not a priority with our university.

Graduate-student representatives to the housing committee spent months putting together a report on the problems with graduate housing, only to be ignored.

The Sleep Out on the Quad rally was organized out of frustration over our lack of input into the way our residential life is governed. And it worked.

This year, minimal stipends for graduate students all over campus were raised. The university has leased a number of apartments in neighboring areas and is offering them to students at subsidized rates. Many of the people who were denied housing last spring now have a Stanford-subsidized place to live. The rally was not the confrontational chaotic riot that is often associated with student protest, but it allowed us to raise our voices, and the university listened.

* Gargi Talukder is a fourth-year student at Stanford University's neuroscience PhD program.

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