This past Sunday, Nov. 6, University of Connecticut undergraduate student Brianna Alexis Chance showcased her documentary series, “Housing (In)justice,” to the public for the first time. Held at the Dodd Center, the series focused on the issue of housing insecurity and homelessness within the undergraduate population.
Programs were handed out before the screening for further details and information about housing insecurity, as well as the individuals who were involved in the documentary process. The production of Chance’s documentary was ultimately made possible by funding from the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network.
The first episode follows the story of Teanna, a close friend of Chance’s and a fellow undergraduate student at UConn, and her personal struggles with housing insecurity. She discusses the strong work ethic that students dealing with housing insecurity have to manage, as well as their heavy reliance on scholarships to help pay for housing.
It forces someone to be fiercely independent from a young age, as Teanna herself said she was working two or three jobs to earn as much money as possible for housing. College is an environment that pools people from all different backgrounds, prompting misconnection between students who have to work multiple jobs to afford shelter, and those who have the luxury and privilege of receiving financial security from their loved ones.
All episodes in the docuseries address a stigma around college culture, which normalizes couch surfing and treating part-time job paychecks as solely “going-out” money. That’s not the case for all students. Students suffering from housing insecurity need to make as much money as possible to simply put a roof over their head.
The second episode follows the story of Courtney, a UConn alum who befriended Chance when she attended the university. Chance aided Courtney with a project that also tackled housing insecurity and homelessness when they were both students. She talks about a shared fear that many college students suffering from housing insecurity have – the realization that dorms aren’t open year-round.
This type of temporary housing, although appreciated, causes students to scramble and look for secure housing during the time that university housing is closed. It’s a very stressful and difficult process for students to locate other options – especially if they are estranged from their families. On top of all that, they are still students who have exams, projects and papers to finish for class.
Episode three follows the story of Amber, another UConn alum who is now an English teacher at Hartford Public Schools, the same community she was brought up in. Amber discusses what her childhood was like, growing up in government housing where you have to adhere to certain rules. Sporadic inspections of their living space was just one of the reasons why Amber and her family never felt quite at home.
She also talks about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on her housing. Being an RA on campus meant that Amber’s housing was tied to her employment, and the pandemic’s arrival in 2020 caused her a lot of strife. When ResLife told the RAs that they weren’t sure if they were going to keep students on campus, Amber had to start worrying about securing other means of shelter.
Episode four follows the story of Alex, another UConn alum and a former advisor at the university, who also had dealt with housing insecurity from a young age. Alex was instrumental in strengthening the Created Caring Communities (CCC) club here at UConn, which seeks to help students who may be dealing with housing insecurity and homelessness. While she was an advisor, she said that over 200 students had reached out to her in regards to housing insecurity, which shows the prevalence of this issue in our own student body.
The fifth and final episode follows Chance’s story, the filmmaker herself who, in escaping her abusive household, became housing insecure and homeless. Chance talks openly about the mental health struggle that came with the uncertainty brought on by housing insecurity, with a toll that wasn’t even revealed until she had stable housing.
A message that all the episodes echo, but is clearly stated in Chance’s, is the need for an organized entity that can supply resources and empathy for students struggling with housing insecurity and homelessness. Chance talks about how other universities with this type of program, like the Trojan Center and Bruins Center for USC and UCLA respectively, have been able to help students by providing shelter and assisting them in finding their own sustainable housing. She hopes to see something like this at UConn someday, in addition to universities across the country.
“Housing (In)justice” was beautifully produced and executed by Chance, and was wonderfully edited by one of her close friends. It eloquently raises the subject of homelessness and housing insecurity – specifically among college-aged individuals – into a public conversation by offering an authentic glimpse of their struggles. It can be watched on YouTube, I highly recommend everyone to watch and hear these stories.