Family “torn apart” in last-minute Omega closure

By Hailey Hensley

Just four days before Thanksgiving break, students who reside in Omega House, part of the Fine and Performing Arts (FPA) living learning community received startling and unexpected news: they were to be moved out of their rooms in Omega House by Dec. 17, according to an email from Vice President for Student Affairs  Leanna Fenneberg. 

The students in the building, who are mostly freshmen, said they still have not been told where they will live next semester.

Freshman acting and dance major Gabriela Alter said, “I was really hoping it wouldn’t happen… I’m from California, so I moved all the way across the country and I’ve tried my best to make a community here, so it’s been really stressful. It’s also my first semester, freshman year. Now I’m going to have to move somewhere else, by myself, in the middle of finals week.”

The decision was made in the wake of Rider’s consolidation plan to accommodate incoming Westminster Choir College (WCC) students and faculty on the Lawrenceville campus. 

An email sent to faculty on Oct. 3 detailed a plan to turn Omega House into offices for WCC faculty. The university had stated publicly that the renovations were slated for the summer.

The email, sent by DonnaJean Fredeen, provost and vice president for academic affairs, states “the renovations to this building [Omega House] will provide office spaces that allow our faculty to continue to provide the quality of instruction that currently exists on the Princeton campus.”

On Oct. 7, a meeting was held with FPA students in which the upcoming campus transition was discussed and the floor was opened to students to ask questions regarding the changes to the Lawrenceville campus.

Freshman acting major and current Omega resident Josiah Jacoby said that they mentioned how they were going to turn Omega into an office space for WCC faculty.

“As soon as they said that, everyone who lived in Omega kind of just looked at each other like ‘what does that mean,’” he said. “If they were starting construction in the spring for all these other things, why wouldn’t Omega be one of them?”

According to Jacoby, his roommate then raised his hand and asked that exact question. 

“So my roommate basically said, ‘If you’re starting construction on these things next semester, where are the people who live in Omega going to go?’ and she [Fenneberg] kind of turned that into a joke. She was sort of laughing and she said something like ‘we’re going to put hard-hats on all of you guys and you’re just going to get to work!’” he said. “Then they moved on after that without actually answering the question. I think that was all they said about Omega at the time. So we still had no idea.”

In a statement to The Rider News, Fenneberg did not deny making the joke. 

Following the Oct. 7 meeting, Omega residents were naturally a bit confused about where they stood for residency in the spring semester. 

“We all thought there was no way they would actually close it and we still hadn’t received any confirmation on anything. We asked Tessa [Douglas, the Omega community assistant], she said she didn’t know anything. Then we asked Tim [Alicea, the Lake-Omega community director] and he said something like ‘at the moment, Omega will not start renovations next semester,’” said Jacoby.

The Rider News reached out to Alicea and Douglas for comment on the situation and both declined to do so and deferred to Associate Dean of Residence Life Roberta Butler, who also declined to comment.  

Freshman arts and entertainment industries management major Gabriel Kennis said “It’s a bit daunting. It’s at an inconvenient time, that’s my biggest issue. It feels incredibly inconvenient in the context of the academic year.”

Jacoby emphasized how close he feels to his fellow residents in Omega.  

“We’re [Omega residents] just sad, we’ve built a family in Omega and now it’s being torn apart. It’s not a big dorm. We all know each other, we all see each other and now we won’t,” said Jacoby. 

Fenneberg stated that “The decision was made by the Campus Transition team, a group comprised of all of the Chairs of the campus transition working groups.  The team carefully considered the construction needs and timeline to accommodate the campus transition as well as the impact on students who live in the building.”

Fenneberg also made it clear that the students were being compensated with a “one-time credit equating to half the cost of room expenses” for the spring semester. 

Omega House is part of the FPA living learning community, which are “the creative hubs for freshmen enrolled in the School of Fine and Performing Arts,” according to Rider’s website. 

Alter said that “I think that because this is such a diverse performing arts community you really get the opportunity to get to know people that are still interested in art and have that camaraderie with you, but experience art in a different way.” 

The Rider News reached out to the Associate Dean of Fine and Performing Arts David Sullivan, for a statement regarding these students being forcibly removed from their living learning community. Sullivan declined to comment. 

“I have no idea where I’m going at the moment, no emails about where I’m moving. All I know is that I have to start moving on Friday and I have to be out before winter break, and finals week is coming up,” Jacoby said. “I’m absolutely terrified by the thought of moving during finals. I’m a freshman, this is my first finals week.” 

Fenneberg said students were made aware of the situation as soon as possible.

“As needs were refined, it became clear that the scope of renovation would extend beyond the summer timeline to assure completion by the start of the 2020 academic year which precipitated the need to begin construction earlier,” she said. “We considered this possibility carefully for a period because we didn’t want to inconvenience students unless it was absolutely necessary.  We communicated with students as soon as we could when we were certain of this need.”

Fenneberg said that Rider’s offer to the students of a one-time $2,050 credit for their “inconvenience” was “generous.”

“It is not uncommon for Universities (or off-campus rental facilities) to face circumstances which require students to relocate mid-year due to facilities demands,” Fenneberg said. 

Despite the offer of financial compensation, some students are still not confident that their needs are being listened to. 

“This is the complete opposite of what I expect from Rider. I don’t feel like they’re listening, I don’t feel like they care about us. It’s very rude. It’s very tense in the house now. This has ruined the community compared to what it used to be” Jacoby said. “People are nervous, people are anxious, there are people with new roommate drama. It’s overwhelming.” 

Student Government Association President Paige Ewing was only made aware of the situation after The Rider News reached out to her for comment. 

“It is unfortunate that the students have to be moved because of renovations. If this was something that the renovations team saw could have been a possibility I wish the administration would have warned those students,” Ewing said. “While it is the University’s right to move students, it is still disruptive, even with the financial compensation and aid from the facilities team to help move the students.”

Alter ended her interview with The Rider News by expressing her discontent with how the moving situation has been handled.

“I think that the move is very sudden and we are not given a lot of opportunities to get our ducks in a row,” Alter said. “We were informed right before we left for a very brief break that during the very short time we’re back in school, we’re going to have to move during our first finals week ever. It just feels really messy.”

As of 10 p.m. on Dec. 9, Omega residents have yet to be informed of where they are moving. 

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