Op-ed: Northeastern needs to address its holiday hangover

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Op-ed: Northeastern needs to address its holiday hangover

NU neglects students who cannot afford to visit their families during holiday vacations.

NU neglects students who cannot afford to visit their families during holiday vacations.

Illustration by Pete McKay

NU neglects students who cannot afford to visit their families during holiday vacations.

Illustration by Pete McKay

Illustration by Pete McKay

NU neglects students who cannot afford to visit their families during holiday vacations.

Cameron Barnett, contributor

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For some college students, the holidays are anything but a vacation. Winter break, as well as the shorter Thanksgiving vacation, means watching other students return to their homes and families while those with fewer financial resources are left with nothing but the cold Boston air to demonstrate their holiday reality.

It is no surprise that college students across America struggle to pay for their education. Students face a $1.5 trillion debt crisis, which hangs over them like the Grim Reaper’s blade, in addition to paying everyday expenses.

What is often overlooked, however, is the additional cost that traveling inflicts upon students’ lives. Young men and women travel from all over the world to attend Northeastern, a fact the university touts, but travel expenses for those students are substantial. Students have many options when traveling, with trains, buses and planes all within reach of the university, but each vehicle charges students more money with each passing mile. Moreover, since Northeastern students already pay approximately $30,000 a semester in tuition, it is unrealistic that low-income students can afford returning home for the holidays. Instead, students stay on campus, away from their families and homes, held back by the financial restraints of their college.

It is astounding that something as simple as returning home for winter break can cause such injustice. Students, many of whom have taken out loans simply to attend the university in the first place, are held hostage by their circumstances because they cannot afford a better alternative. They lose their chance to see loved ones, experience the holiday magic and enjoy the comfort of their own home, all because of a financial statement controlling their lives. It is unfair, and the university needs to do more to help these students.

Since the university collects the savings and tuition of students, it has a responsibility to provide for their lives as much as possible. Northeastern has already shown that it cares about lower-income students by attempting to provide them with extra meal swipes, but it needs to extend its interest beyond the dining hall.

Northeastern’s current policies for students over break do not fully address their needs, operating with a short-sighted approach to holiday residents. While the university does provide housing over the vacation period, many other facilities, such as the dining halls, have limited availability and in many cases are closed for the duration of the break. The closure of these facilities forces students to spend money at non-affiliated restaurants in the Boston area, which we all know are not cheap, or hope their dining dollars remain from the past three months. Students’ meal plans end shortly after Christmas, meaning that there is nearly a week before the spring semester where these holiday residents lack both meal swipes and dining dollars. It is inconsiderate at best to simply assume that students, who already lack the funds to get home, will have the appropriate means to supply themselves with meals in the absence of the university. 

However, Northeastern is not expected to cover every expense a student incurs over their break. College students are adults and, by nature, burdened with the price of autonomy. It is also not fair to demand that the employees of the dining halls or restaurants around campus report to work every day over the holidays, or to prevent such employees from returning to their own homes in order to satisfy holiday residents. Nonetheless, the university’s current lack of action and involvement in the issue is wholly inadequate.

The university can begin by providing additional dining opportunities for students over break. Northeastern can achieve this result not by keeping employees over the break, but by allotting students additional dining dollars specifically for the winter holiday. Students can then budget their funds appropriately and have an added layer of protection against any money shortage so they can celebrate the holidays with mirth instead of disappointment.

Northeastern could also attempt to create programs and scholarships for students who demonstrate a vital need for transportation. Students who are unable to go home for the holidays or who demonstrate extreme circumstances should qualify for this program. Students would have to dedicate additional time and complete an application to demonstrate that they are serious about reuniting with their family, but it is a small price to pay for returning home. 

The question of how the university could fund such programs remains, especially since students have managed in the past. So why should this be addressed now? Regarding the latter, simply managing an undesirable situation is no excuse for allowing these unequal circumstances to persist. It is the university’s responsibility to ensure that the issue is corrected, and the right of the students to demand it is done in a swift manner. 

Furthermore, while the university would be billed a large amount if it decided to pay for some students’ holiday trips, it has the funds to do so. The university built the financial behemoth ISEC, or Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex, years ago, which cost over 200 million dollars. Northeastern is in the process of building another one, likely at a similar cost. While I do not expect the university to delegate as much money to holiday travel as it does to such a large project, I do expect that it treats the issue with the same, if not more, seriousness as it does with the creation of another engineering building. Northeastern can afford to send students home to their families and friends, yet it has failed to do so.

Vacations are a time for relaxation and leisure where students can regroup from academics and early careers. It is simply not realistic or correct to assume every student has the resources to return home for the holidays, and we cannot pretend that a Northeastern vacation is as fulfilling as one spent at home. There must be additional resources dedicated towards students who are denied their rightful chance to see their loved ones, and whose only fault is a checkbook slimmer than some of their classmates’. This holiday season, Northeastern must provide the gift of a trip home to its students, where they can enjoy the rest they so rightfully deserve.

Cameron Barnett is a first-year journalism and English combined major.