Students in residence halls must leave unless they ‘truly have no other alternatives’

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 - 1:18pm

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Dominick Sokotoff/Daily

This story has been updated to include new information from the University Housing Team.

All students living in University of Michigan residence halls must leave campus unless they fill out a request to remain in housing, according to an email sent to everyone still living on campus Tuesday afternoon. If their request is approved, the email notes, they are not guaranteed to continue their current housing assignment and may have to move to a new building. 

According to the email, sent by the University Housing staff, concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus made it crucial for students to leave campus.

“New developments in the COVID-19 pandemic make it clear that now is the time to return home,” the email reads. “ ... While University Housing will ensure that we have sufficient housing available for students who truly have no other alternatives, we cannot promise that you will be able to remain in your current housing assignment.”

The request to stay must be filled out by Wednesday, March 18 at 8 a.m. A failure to respond will result in the University assuming the student has moved out and discontinuing access to the building. 

The email also noted that Northwood I, II, III, IV and V, Lawyers Club and Munger Graduate Residences are exceptions to the rule students must leave unless they have no other option. 

On Wednesday afternoon, the University Housing staff sent an additional email to students living in on-campus housing apologizing for confusion caused by their previous message. The email clarified that no students were required to move out of their residence hall by 8:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, just that students had to fill out the form by that time.

“Our principles involve placing priority on the health and safety of our students,” the email reads. “This makes de-densifying living spaces (especially residence halls) in a strategic manner, a very high priority. We also understand that students have different circumstances and we fully expect that some of you will need to remain on campus and are committed to supporting your needs in this process.”

The new email said no student living in University student housing has lost access to their residence hall, and those who will be leaving campus will retain access through March 23 at 5:00 p.m. University Housing staff will arrange to pack and store the belongings of students who have already left campus if they are unable to come back by this time.

Students continuing to live in residence halls on campus may still need to leave their existing dorms for safety reasons and will be living in single occupancy rooms to practice social distancing.

This comes after Simone Himbeault Taylor, interim vice president for student life, sent a campus-wide email Monday urging all students to return home. All libraries and gyms on campus have been closed, while dining hall usage has been reduced to take-out only.

Additionally, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put into effect an executive order on Monday closing performance venues, movie theaters, libraries, museums and bars, in addition to banning on-premise consumption at restaurants in the state. 

Several cases of COVID-19 have been identified in the University community, Taylor confirmed in her email to students.

“There are several confirmed cases within our community, dozens of others remain under evaluation, and many others have been placed in quarantine as a result of exposure,” Taylor wrote. “And these numbers are growing daily.”

LSA sophomore Lena Hoppe lives in the Stockwell Residence Hall and said she was alerted to the news when she heard people crying on the phone to their parents. 

“I found out, not actually by reading the email initially, I was in the lounge in Stockwell and I found out about it because several people around me started bawling on the phone to their parents saying that they were kicking us out, and I was like oh shoot I should probably check my email,” Hoppe said.

Hoppe explained she initially was impressed with the University’s policy of letting students stay, but she feels this sudden change is unfortunate.

“I feel like, in terms of the other messaging that they’ve been putting out, the fact that they guaranteed all housing and dining would remain operational, the fact that they’re now deciding to close is kinda crazy," Hoppe said. "I know with the Governor’s announcement, I know obviously things have been changing but I feel like they shouldn’t go back on what they previously said.”

Hoppe, like many other students, said she chose to remain in the dorms until this point because her internet access at home is not reliable, which makes it hard for her to take online classes and exams.

“I personally requested to stay until the weekend because I have an exam on Friday and my internet access at home is really unreliable and that’s why it’s really important for me to be able to stay," Hoppe said. "Also, my parents can’t really get me until this weekend so I really hope they agree to my request, because if not I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

 LSA sophomore Isaac Bigsby lives in Couzens Hall. He was originally planning on moving out this weekend but now has to expedite his move-out process in light of this email. 

“I think that was the real turning point in my decision to move out — when they started to get more serious about what’s going on,” Bigsby said. “And based on my understanding, looking at it, I think what they’re gonna do is relocate people and so it’d be kind of crazy because the one thing I was worried about is if I leave Friday, am I about to have to move all my stuff somewhere else and then move out again for sure, but I’m not too worried about it now since I’m leaving tomorrow.”

Bigsby said while he is able to move out sooner than he initially intended, not everyone has that ability. He noted international students may face heightened challenges. 

“There’s one of my hallmates who is leaving on Friday and is concerned. Are they gonna shut off access on Wednesday and if so, that’ll be a problem if he isn’t leaving until Friday,” Bigsby said. “I think there’s several other people that also don’t really have a place to stay. I kind of think about international students, where are they going to put their stuff if they’re forced to leave?”

Bigsby said he appreciates the University’s response and said the school has made sure everyone in the residence hall feels secure, but the previous uncertainty around whether students were supposed to stay or move out made it difficult for him to figure out what to do. 

“I think that they’ve been generally pretty good about making sure everyone feels safe and calm and everything, but I also think that uncertainty is hard to plan for yourself,” Bigsby said. “There’s never really a deadline where they’re like, you need to be out by this day, or it’s always just a suggestion, which I kind of get because it’s kind of just in everyone’s hands. But that caused some extra stress for me just trying to figure out what to do with my parents.”

A group of Law students sent an email to deans and faculty at the Law School regarding the status of student housing at the Lawyers Club, voicing their concerns about the request to leave. They note the decision was made without contacting administrators at the Law School.

“We have asked the Lawyers Club administration to clarify the email, but to our surprise and dismay, they were also unaware of this email or what it could possibly mean for us,” the email reads. “We understand that these decisions are being made at another level, but the lack of clarifying information, which should be sent after these central University emails, leads us to think that there is no one from Law School housing who is participating in, and advocating for us, in these meetings.”

They also noted that, unlike undergraduates, graduate students often do not have a permanent residence other than where they live in Ann Arbor.

“Whether it is institutional blindness, or simply silence, I want to remind the Law School that those individuals who do not have the access to resources, financial or otherwise, to ‘go home’ - whatever that is even supposed to mean for graduate students - are those that, yet again, are faced with the emotional and psychological burden of finding a way to make this new ‘normal’ work, without the help of the Law School or University,” the email reads.

Other universities in the state and across the country have asked students to return home. Michigan State University has announced it will refund the students who still remain in on-campus housing in light of updated statewide restrictions due to COVID-19. This refund can either be in cash or credit towards future housing and dining costs.

Off-campus residences have announced cases of the virus at their buildings. On Friday, Vic Village-North told residents that someone who lives in the building had tested positive. ArborBLU confirmed Sunday night that one of its residents had also tested positive for COVID-19. 

Daily News Editor Emma Stein can be reached at enstein@umich.edu.