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A school isn't public if it isn't livable for everyone

ASU continues to gentrify, rather than building affordable student housing

Photo illustration done on Wednesday, March 3, 2016.

Photo illustration done on Wednesday, March 3, 2016.

ASU is a constitutionally-mandated public school, but with rising tuition, students must fight to define what "public" really means.

The Arizona State Constitution does not define the term public, but it does establish the need for a public university system. Yet climbing tuition continues to push students away from study time and towards work, or even worse, making college unaffordable altogether. 

Now is the time for the state to decide what public schools mean, as tension builds in tertiary education.

For a previous column, Shayna Stevens, the executive director of the Arizona Students Association, began to define public when she said that universities should not only be tuition free, but that they should also understand the burdens that living expenses place on the student body.

Viewing the University as responsible not only for student education but also for student welfare was voiced by my colleague Holly Hillsten as well, when she discussed the international precedent available in Denmark. This isn’t radical here either as U.S. universities already represent massive real estate and food service providers through their residence programs and accompanying restaurants and dining halls.

It’s all a question of how these means are designed.

Tanzil Chowdhury of Students for a Democratic Society and materials science freshman said that the University is largely abdicating its role of providing affordable student housing, and instead promoting contracts with national companies that are gentrifying students out of university neighborhoods.

“When I go to (other universities), I see University House and Rise there as well — not just the names but the buildings,” Chowdhury said. “These are not affordable for the vast quantity of students.”

It is not as if this is a move by the City of Tempe to push out students. ASU has planning control over the area these anti-student developments are being constructed in, and does not appear to be taking into account students’ needs to have reasonable housing as they allow luxury developers to take over the majority of ASU’s special planning zone.

This isn’t a question of embracing anti-development NIMBYism. It is a question of implementing the movement that the City of Tempe and other municipalities are embracing: Luxury apartments were never meant to house everyone, and the areas around ASU campuses are locking students out, forcing many to commute to and from campus.

By all means, single-story, low-density buildings along College Avenue and University Drive are eliminating valuable space that could be used for affordable student housing. 

Rezoning these areas, as is currently occurring, is a necessity. But ASU’s planning department appears to have its heart set upon using this space not for socioeconomically diverse students, but for those who already have enough means to afford extravagant living spaces useless to the majority.

As a public institution, the University should not seek to gentrify the majority of students out of the University’s surrounds. Rather, it should be constructing a special planning region that adequately provides students affordable housing.

ASU cannot call itself public if the Uiversity is surrounded by an educational Disney World experience for the rich that excludes the overwhelming majority of real Arizonans, rather than a small elite.

Reach the columnist at or follow @blsteele17 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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