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Students Protest University of Vermont Thanksgiving Fee

November 24, 2021

Students at the University of Vermont have waged a protest against the university’s mandatory housing fee for those seeking to stay on campus during Thanksgiving break, according to organizer Chrysanthemum Harrell, a senior and member of the UVM Union of Students. More than 2,200 students signed a petition criticizing the policy.

Students must pay $161 for the eight-night break, including the weekend days, said Joel Seligman, chief communications officer for the university. Only students who reserved accommodations through the campus housing portal are allowed to access the residence halls. Those who want to eat at the campus dining hall during the break must pay an additional $135 for a meal plan.

The arrangement is nothing new, Seligman said. Students must also pay fees if they stay during winter and spring breaks.

“For many years, our on-campus housing contract has excluded Thanksgiving, Winter, and Spring breaks from the ‘period of occupancy’ for each academic year,” Seligman said in a statement. “If—for any reason—students prefer to remain in their room during a break, the contract provides options to do so at a reasonable cost.” This year, fewer than one-half of 1 percent of students opted to remain in on-campus housing during Thanksgiving break, he said.

Though the fee has been imposed for years, it wasn’t required last year because of the pandemic, said Harrell. According to Harrell, students only became aware of this year’s fee in late October; Seligman said the policy is clearly documented in the housing contracts students must sign before the academic year starts. Harrell said an international student from India brought the issue to the union’s attention, noting that they weren’t going to travel during the break and had to pay the fee out of pocket. That prompted the Union of Students to launch an email campaign to university administrators, create a petition and ultimately organize a protest on Friday, Nov. 19, Harrell said. The Union of Students itself raised funds from campus community members to cover the break fee for seven students, Harrell said. (This paragraph has been updated to correct the timing of the fee's announcement.)

The petition demands that the university establish an emergency fund to help students pay the break fee, provide free break accommodations in all future housing contracts, supply a detailed breakdown of how it spends the $47.6 million residence life budget each year and commit to creating a plan to significantly reduce the cost of on-campus housing.

“There’s definitely a lot of anger, and it’s been very clear all across campus that students are pretty pissed off about this,” Harrell said. “Students have also been sort of equally frustrated by a lack of response from the administration, who have not released a formal response to the petition or any sort of assistance offered to the student body.”

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