Other campuses: Fake disabilities cause housing competition at Columbia U.

(U-WIRE) NEW YORK – According to rumors, some Columbia University students whose only symptom is fear of a stuffy room are resorting to faking disabilities to obtain better housing.

“There’s a running joke that people get allergies their sophomore year,” said Scott Wright, assistant vice president of Housing and Dining, the office responsible for assigning rooms to students, including those with special needs.

But the real issue, some say, may be that students who legitimately request disability housing are having trouble getting it.

General housing assignments are determined by a lottery system in which seniors and juniors have a higher point value than sophomores, who usually have to choose from rooms without air conditioning in dorms like Hartley, Wallach, Wien and “off-campus.” Out of the pool of rooms available after lottery selection, some are used to fill disability requests.

Special housing requested by students can vary from air-conditioned rooms to quiet singles for students with Attention Deficit Disorder. While accommodating these students, Housing and Dining tries to place them in dorms they would normally be selecting. However, due to uneven distribution of disability housing across campus – Wien has no air-conditioned rooms, for example – some students don’t end up in housing appropriate to their lottery standing.

Chris Higgins, ’06, who requested a ground-level, wheelchair-accessible room, is frustrated by his lack of options. “I’ve lived in Furnald for three years, and don’t know of any other dorms with first-floor rooms,” he said. “I’m tempted to ask the theoretical question: If I weren’t an RA, would I end up the token junior in a sophomore dorm?”

On the other hand, some underclassmen are occasionally moved to dorm buildings above their lottery ranking.

“The Broadway and Schapiro dorms, which have some of the nicest rooms on campus, also have the most (air-conditioned) rooms reserved for disabled people,” Wright said. If air-conditioned rooms in sophomore dorms fill up, a few of these top-pick rooms may go to disabled sophomores.

As a solution to this problem, Wright is considering giving students with allergies portable air-filtering systems, rather than assigning them to air-conditioned rooms. “The HEPA filters can be used in any room. … If we take air conditioning out of the equation, it will free up more housing.”

– Jeb Burt