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'There was literally no room on campus': Staying over break presents new challenges this year

For many students, Winter Break is an opportunity to go home, enjoy the comfort of their own beds and celebrate holidays and festivities with loved ones. But, not everyone gets to stay at home.

Some do not leave because they are international students and live too far away. Sometimes, it's too costly to travel. Finding these students a place to stay on campus has become increasingly difficult. 

In the past, Duke has been able to offer on-campus Winter Break housing to a small group of students, utilizing Central Campus housing that was empty during Fall semester due to the large number of students studying abroad. However, in the 2016-2017 year, the Housing and Residence Life office announced that because of changes to Central Campus, that housing option would no longer be available. Instead, the University would offer students reduced rates at local hotels and housing in vacant Swift Avenue apartments. 

“There’s consistently been the desire to provide options for international students in particular over winter break for housing in recognition that for some of them going home isn’t really an option, and are there ways that Duke can provide alternatives,” said Joe Gonzalez, interim assistant vice president of student affairs and dean for residential life. 

Working in tandem with International House—an organization at Duke that provides educational programs, services and advocacy to the global Duke community—HRL has housed international students on campus during Winter Break for the past 10 years, Gonzalez explained. 

However, when Duke decided to begin phasing out Central Campus and several complexes were closed, HRL’s inventory of space was reduced, eliminating this option.

“There was literally no room on campus," said Director of IHouse Lisa Giragosian. "Central Campus apartments had been taken out of circulation and there was a severe housing shortage."

To try to accommodate students needing to stay, HRL partnered with a set of local hotels—including including Residence Inn Durham, Extended Stay America, University Inn and Millennium Hotel Durham—to offer reduced rates and shuttles to and from campus. 

Sophomore Brian Njoroge said he has stayed at Residence Inn in the past. 

“The process wasn't necessary difficult for me, as they were willing to make accommodations for times to check in as I had travel plans earlier so I wasn't limited to checking in and out of the hotel at the stipulated dates," Njoroge said.

For this year only, HRL and IHouse are able to offer a small group of students the opportunity to stay in apartments at 300 Swift Avenue that were unoccupied this semester because the previous leases ended after the Fall semester began. 

Giragosian said that 25-30 students will be staying in the Swift apartments over break, including both international and non-international students. Gonzalez said the Swift option will be temporary. 

“Now that [these apartments] are in our inventory, we’ll be using them both semesters next year,” Gonzalez said. "This will mean they will not be available for Winter Break housing in the 2017-2018 academic year." 

At other schools such as Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, students can apply to stay in their residence halls during the Winter Break if they are international students with demonstrable need to stay or are participating in campus programs. 

Duke, however, plans to continue to partner with local hotels in foreseeable future.  

“We’ll be searching for the alternative approach,” Gonzalez said. “There have been conversations, but I think more substantive ones are needed to figure out what the solution is.”


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