Residents of the International Residential College, Johnson, Malone and Weedon Houses and Shea House were given just 24 hours to choose a housing reassignment or remain off-Grounds after learning on Friday at 8:00 p.m. that their dormitories were being converted into quarantine and isolation areas.
Residents of the three housing communities received the Housing and Residence Life email informing them of the decision just three hours after the University announced its intention to forge ahead with in-person classes this fall. In that Friday Return to Grounds email, the University’s senior leadership alluded to the creation of “additional spaces for isolation and quarantine.”
University spokesperson Wes Hester said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the choice to convert the residences was made in “real time” and “needed to be made quickly and was made after consultation with the Provost [Liz Magill], the Chief Operating Officer [J.J. Davis] and the Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer [Patricia Lampkin].”
“This was a difficult decision and we wish it were otherwise,” Hester said.
The decision has blindsided on-Grounds housing residents, who said they had no idea their housing was under consideration for quarantine conversion.
Among the students forced to relocate days before their move-in date is fourth-year College student Jenny Ding, who has lived in the IRC since her second year. Amid the tumult of online classes and post-grad job hunting, Ding had found solace in knowing she could return this fall to the IRC — a community that she calls home.
“That was one less thing I had to worry about,” Ding said.
The late-night Housing and Residence Life email now leaves Ding and other residents with two options — submit their preference for a new housing assignment or forfeit their on-Grounds housing.
That binary choice worries IRC resident and third-year College student Soumil Madhiwala, who fears being reassigned to an on-Grounds apartment with roommates who fail to take adequate COVID-19 precautions. He and his roommate were well-prepared to social distance, and the IRC was at only 32 percent occupancy — making distancing much more feasible.
“Now I have to look out for my safety in terms of who I’m with,” Madhiwala said.
Each housing community being converted into a quarantine and isolation area was below 35 percent capacity, according to Hester.
“Of the 4,400 students living in our residences, this decision impacted a couple hundred students,” Hester said.
Affected students still have the option to cancel their on-Grounds contract at no penalty, provided that they contact HRL before their move-in date. Students who move into higher-priced housing reassignments will not have to pay more than they were initially charged for the IRC, Johnson, Weedon and Malone or Shea House. If they move into lower-priced housing, they will pay the lower rate.
Residents may also indicate their preference for a single or double room.
Still, questions remain.
Madhiwala wonders whether he will be able to stay with his roommate if he is reassigned. Others speculate whether cancelling their housing contract will put them at a disadvantage for finding on-Grounds housing this Spring.
“We are just left in the dark about everything,” Ding said.
With HRL offices closed on the weekend, some residents report that they have been unable to find answers to their housing questions. The only information Ding has obtained, she said, has been through the principal of the IRC, Engineering Prof. Reid Bailey, who said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily that he had not been consulted prior to the University’s decision to shut down dormitories.
Bailey learned in a later conversation with Dean of Students Allen Groves that University administration had initially planned to alert students of the decision Friday morning but ultimately delayed the notice.
A source from within HRL — who asked to remain anonymous due to an HRL policy which restricts employees from speaking to the press — said several Resident Advisors had already moved into the residences being consolidated for quarantine. Those RAs received communication of their reassignment to different dormitories nearly an hour after their residents had received communication about the decision from HRL.
Many RAs first learned of the news from their residents. All have been reassigned to new dormitories.
While Bailey is frustrated with the lack of communication, he said the real issue is breaking up a tight-knit community of students — especially one grounded in the celebration of multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion.
“They haven’t just moved students,” Bailey said. “They’ve hurt a community.”
Ding called the decision to break up IRC — which boasts the largest international-to-domestic student ratio on-Grounds — “hypocritical” in the face of the University’s well-publicized efforts toward racial justice, such as the recently-formed Racial Equity Task Force.
Students in the IRC were provided the option to be reassigned to Hereford or Brown College, the University’s two other residential colleges. That offer, Bailey said, reveals a detachment between administration and residential college students who choose their housing not for the residential college experience, but for the college’s unique community.
“That that is included to placate the concerns or to make it less bad for IRC students shows a disconnect, a misunderstanding by the decision makers,” Bailey said. “Of the people on the decision-making team, I don’t think any of them has set foot on the IRC since I’ve been here.”
Choosing to move off-Grounds presents other difficulties.
Second-year Curry student Arnaldo Sandoval planned to move into the Johnson, Malone and Weedon Houses Sept. 6. With his classes in full-swing and move-in just around the corner, he has little time or resources to find housing off-Grounds.
“I’m ultimately left to live on-Grounds,” Sandoval said.
Hoping for a single bedroom, Sandoval asked to move to Bond House for his reassignment — an option is Madhiwala is considering as well.
Madhiwala said he is also contemplating staying at home. If he were to move into a new dormitory, he would be doing so without the community he forged in his two years at the IRC.
“It’s almost as if I’m going back to first year as a third-year student,” Madhiwala said.
The lack of transparency and last-minute nature of the decision leaves Sandoval wary for the future of the fall semester.
“It just makes me wonder how many cases they’re actually expecting to have once everyone returns,” Sandoval said.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the University's Chief Operating Officer. It has since been updated to reflect that J.J. Davis is the COO.