By Janya Sundar
With Stanford’s help, Cricket Bidleman had successfully cut ties with her family after years of emotional and financial abuse, with the expectation that she would have stable housing during the school year. That expectation was turned upside down when Stanford announced in March that most students would have to leave campus due to COVID-19 precautions.
For both the spring and summer quarters, Stanford gave students an opportunity to apply to stay on campus. While all 280 summer applicants were granted access, many spring applicants, including Bidleman, were denied, putting them in a group with other housing-insecure or otherwise financially struggling students questioning what to do next. Stanford First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP) and Stanford Mutual Aid (SMA) were two student groups that stepped up to help, running programs that matched students with aid and housing.
FLIP continued their Emergency Housing Match program throughout the summer to match students who needed housing with Stanford alumni hosts. SMA created a master spreadsheet of community offerings and resources to consolidate information on where to turn for financial, housing and mental health support during the summer.
“We expect the needs of our FLI community, and our student community more broadly, will continue to evolve as the ongoing pandemic presents further challenges,” Miranda wrote. “The University is committed to providing support to our students during this extraordinary time.”
Both FLIP co-president Ayush Pandit ’21 and SMA Volunteer coordinator William Shan ’22 said they were waiting for Stanford’s response to student needs before making any definitive plans. 73% of applications for housing outside of class cohorts’ designated on-campus quarters were approved for the 2020-21 school year.
Pandit said they hope that “Stanford makes an appropriate response to student needs” so FLIP is “not forced to run” another round of their housing match program.
FLIP’s housing match program was made available to all students who were facing emergency housing. Pandit estimates around 30-40 students were matched with housing, and around 50-60 students applied at the beginning of the summer quarter for the second round.
SMA ran a “1-1 Specific Needs Matching Form” where students could anonymously submit requests for emergency financial aid, and community members could fulfill those requests. Shan estimates that there were around 150 submitted student requests and 250 responses to those requests. To supplement their 1-1 specific needs matching form, they also ran a basic needs fund that raised over $14,000, which went towards meeting pending urgent requests.
“We still have several students that are currently looking for housing,” Pandit said. “Unfortunately, there’s only so much that we can do. We’ve really tried to make sure on an individual basis that no students are falling through the cracks.”
Miranda wrote that the University “actively deployed funding” to its Opportunity Fund through the financial aid program, which was available to students enrolled at least half time during the summer. The University also offered a Summer Equity Grant to provide supplemental support for housing, utility and food costs for students with unpaid internships. Over $400,000 in funding was used to support jobs for students on and off campus, and more than 100 jobs have been listed to help students who lost employment opportunities, according to Miranda.
Bidleman said she still questions why her spring housing request was turned down, despite making the Financial Aid Office “abundantly aware” of her personal situation, citing letters from her surgeon, professors and other knowledgeable parties “declaring the validity” of her request. When she reached out to several administration members after the rejection, she said that they did not give her answers as to why she was denied housing.
Miranda wrote that the University could not comment on any individual students’ personal or financial situation.
Pandit said Stanford’s housing policy was “absurd” and that the University “absolutely should have been responsible” for finding housing for housing insecure students.
“It should not fall on students to find housing for other students that don’t have it,” Pandit added.
In addition to the housing match program, Pandit said FLIP also worked to raise awareness about resources available to students by hosting several town hall meetings during the spring. They are also working with SMA to help students find free or subsidized housing offered by Stanford affiliates.
Bidleman said that although she was aware of the resources provided through organizations such as FLIP, she felt guilty using them and refrained. She ended up moving in with her friend in Philadelphia and recently moved to Massachusetts.
“It’s a really hard thing to do, to admit that you are not able to depend on your family, or just to admit that you are homeless,” Bidleman said. “But the only way that we’re going to make any sort of positive change is to speak up about it.”
Contact Janya Sundar at janyasundar ‘at’ gmail.com.