Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 19, 2020

Residential students grapple with housing instability after University orders move-outs due to COVID-19

By JAKE LEFKOVITZ | March 17, 2020

mccoy

FILE PHOTO

Residential students reflect on having to leave campus this past weekend.

Following the University’s announcement that students would not be allowed to remain in on-campus housing past March 15 amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, The News-Letter interviewed residential students about their transition to off-campus housing. 

Many of the students were frustrated by having to negotiate new housing arrangements on short notice and felt that the University did not give them sufficient information throughout the process. 

Charles Commons resident Yoko Yamashita, an international student from Japan, stated that the University made moving off campus extremely difficult. 

“My experience has been full of confusion, anxiety and frustration,” she said. “The whole process could not have been any harder... They kind of just left us to do everything by ourselves.”

McCoy Hall resident Brian Li echoed Yamashita’s sentiments.

“It’s just been frankly a blur. We really weren’t given a lot of time to react,” he said. “We just had to try to pack up as much as we could and move.” 

In an email that reached all residential students by Friday, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Alanna Shanahan said that while all residential students would have to leave their dorms, there would be certain exceptions for students “who cannot return home due to international travel restrictions, financial hardship or other extraordinary circumstances.” 

A common frustration for such students was the process of filling out a housing intent form. The form was the only way that students could apply for an exception.

Homewood Apartments resident Michal Brown explained that she had trouble getting the form.

“They didn’t even send it to me,” she said. “I had to have my friend forward me that email so that I could have access to the form and say that I would like to stay on campus.”

Despite submitting her request for an exception on the night of March 12, Brown said that she had received no response from the University as of noon on March 16. 

When she attempted to call the Housing Office on March 14, she said that they were not able to answer her questions.

“The guy who answered the phone basically said, ‘I have no clue what’s going on, I don’t know when they’ll get back to you, this isn’t even coming out of our office, and I don’t know who is in charge of that,’” she said.

Li also reported experiencing problems with the housing intent form. He had decided to stay in Baltimore with his girlfriend. Both of them, he said, were concerned about getting back to Baltimore from home when classes were to resume because he is from California and she is an international student.

He said that he had secured an apartment for the two of them and that their move-in date was one week after the deadline that the University had set for students to leave campus. 

In an interview with The News-Letter on March 14, Li said that the University seemed not to take this into account when they processed his exception application.

“We told them [on the morning of March 14] that I’d be moving out to my apartment on the 21st. They didn’t get back to me until a few hours ago today [at 4 p.m.] and said that I would have until the 17th,” he said. “There’s no explanation as to why they have a four-day gap between when they’re going to finally kick me off and when I told them I would be moving into an apartment.”

Homewood Apartments resident Cindy Ow reported that she filled out her application for an exception on the morning of March 13 and had received notice by 6 p.m. that same day that she was approved to stay in her on-campus apartment.

However, she reported still not feeling secure in her housing. When the University initially announced the suspension of in-person classes on Tuesday, March 10, residential students had the option of staying on campus. Days later, they were forced to move. She said that she began to worry when the Office of International Services emailed her on March 14.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to be moved soon. I’m a little worried about that. So I’m just packing to be sure,” she said. “When they sent me that email I was like, ‘Are they trying to kick me out again?’”

Like Ow, Li has been concerned by the dramatic changes in University policy since Tuesday.

“Within the span of a few days they went from saying, ‘You can still stay in your dorms just as long as you fill out this form’ to basically, ‘You have two days to leave,’” he said. “Emergencies happen, and this is a national emergency now. But there’s been no explanation as to why they’re making us move off so quick... It’s just been a weird black box that we’ve been asked to work around.”

In an email to The News-Letter, Assistant Vice President for External Relations Karen Lancaster for the Office of Communications wrote that the University’s primary concern is student safety.

“As has been communicated with increasing urgency, reducing the number of individuals on campus — including those in residence halls — is critical in adhering to necessary social distancing protocols and minimizing risk of exposure to COVID-19,” she wrote. 

Students also reported issues with organizing their actual move out of their on-campus residences.

Yamashita said that her move out of Charles Commons on March 14 was more stressful than necessary because of University constraints and pressure from University staff. 

“Even [on March 14] when most people had already moved out and they had a lot of extra [moving] carts, they still called us and threatened to fine us if we returned the carts late. We were dealing with a lot of anxiety and stress,” she said. “They also closed at 4:30 p.m. I understand it’s a Saturday. But with… everyone having to move out so suddenly, I feel like they could have been a lot more understanding of students’ feelings.”

Yamashita said this was especially stressful for her as an international student.

“We don’t have a home in the States. If they just kick us out, we will literally be homeless,” she said. “I can’t imagine how I could have been any more panicked about what was going on.”

As of Wednesday, March 11, only residents were able to access their own residence buildings. Li noted that this made moving out far more complicated. 

“Parents couldn’t go in to help move some stuff for the kids when they came to pick them up... Even during the most frantic portions of the move... they still wouldn't let anybody go through,” he said. “It almost feels like they were making it more difficult for us to get our stuff out.”

Lancaster wrote to The News-Letter that the University has always tried to minimize the challenges that students may face while also complying with public-health guidelines.

“We recognize the obstacles that remaining students may face, and we are working with them to find solutions,“ she wrote. “As we work through this together, we appreciate everyone’s patience, cooperation and understanding, and will continue to offer support to students and our university community during this very challenging time.”

McCoy Hall resident Patrick Prochazka is an international student from Canada. After coordinating with his family, he decided to follow University policy and return home.

While he expressed frustration at how rushed he felt the move-out process was, he also called for people to have greater understanding for the position that the University is in. 

“We all have to recognize that it’s really a time of mass panic and it’s really a time of uncertainty,” he said. “The University knows just about as little as we do about how the pandemic is going to spread, what are going to be the best steps to follow, what other universities are going to do. I think it’s imperative that we all kind of give the University a little bit of leeway... because at the end of the day, it’s something that everybody’s struggling with and everyone’s going through.”

Lancaster also stressed that the severity of the crisis warranted dramatic responses by the University. 

“Every University decision in response to the escalating COVID-19 global crisis is informed by the expertise of our world-renowned leaders in medicine, public health and emergency response, as well as by guidance from state and national authorities. These are unprecedented times requiring extraordinary measures, with the health and safety of our university community always the top priority,“ she wrote. 

On the other hand, Homewood Apartments resident Michal Brown called on the University to be more understanding of the position that students are in.

“Talk to us a little more,” she said. “Communicate with us about what [the University’s] plans are, what their prospective ideas could be, what might happen — as opposed to just leaving up and unknown completely and having everything be rumor until the very last second,” she said.

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