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Monday, September 28, 2020

University Residences move thousands of students out

Many face uncertainty about their living situations as employment and education become unstable

By Emma Bjornsrud

One of the most important variables impacting university students in the face of COVID-19 is housing. As many students deal with unemployment and a transition to online classes, their living situations have become unaffordable or illogical.

According to Karen Walker, associate director of Western University Residences’ Occupancy, Communication and Administrative Services, about 3,200 students are expected to move out of the dorms. About 300 to 400 students will remain in the dorms through spring quarter.

University Residences changed residents’ move-out date from April 12 to May 18 after Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee extended the stay-home order through May 4 on Thursday, April 2.

Third-year Jessica Wilson moved out of Higginson Hall last week.

“My family [and I], we all decided that I might as well move back to my house here in Washington, which is great because I know a lot of people can’t do that,” Wilson said. “I feel bad for the people that have to live on campus because nothing is open and you’re basically stuck in your room all day. It’s not an ideal situation.”

To provide students with adequate bath and kitchen amenities while maintaining social distancing, University Residences is planning to consolidate residents who plan to continue living on campus. Residents will be moved into Fairhaven Complex, Buchanan Towers and Birnam Wood, Vicki Vanderwerf, associate director of Residence Life, said.

Housing will adhere to the ratios of two people per bathroom and one person per bedroom for spring quarter. Residents will only have to move from their current location if there are more than two to a bathroom or more than one to a bedroom, according to Terence Symonds, associate director of University Residences’ Facilities.

Housing fees will not increase for residents. Only the 80-meal plan will be available for spring quarter because of limited dining hall hours, Vanderwerf said.

Residence Life laid off all resident advisers and apartment advisers Wednesday, April 1. With so few residents, the jobs are no longer available, Vanderwerf said.

“It was really hard for the students and for us,” she said. “So, we want to make sure that we are supporting them. Of course, a lot of their positions come with housing, which is a huge, huge benefit, but when you lose that, it could have a really big impact.”

The RAs and AAs are expected to move out by May 18, the same date as other residents. But University Residences wants to make the transition easy for students.

Vanderwerf said Residence Life is coordinating self-checkouts and plans to offer packing and shipping for students who are unable to return to campus. 

“We’re just really flexible as long as students communicate with us and just let us know their plans,” Vanderwerf said. “We still have the same goals in ensuring students have a safe, welcoming and positive on-campus living experience.”

But students living off-campus may not have quite the same safety net to fall back on if they lost their source of income or are facing other challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Third-year Chelsea Marion lost her internship and work-study job because of COVID-19. A single mother of two boys, Marion is now tasked with child care, home schooling her children and taking her own online classes through spring quarter.

“I’m anticipating that I’ll get a no-pass grade for this internship because I can’t physically do it right now,” she said. “But if I were to withdraw from school, I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent. I filed my taxes so that I could get the American Opportunity Tax Credit and that’s really how I’m paying my rent this month because I haven’t gotten any other things.”

Despite many struggles during these difficult times, communities are coming together and resources are being shared with those in need.

Third-year Travis Felver said the people around him helped him think more positively even as the things around him were changing.

“I’ve got a job,” he said. “My girlfriend’s got her hours cut hard, but because I’m the type who likes to save early for a rainy day — well, this is a rainy day. We’ve been making it work but it’s really only because of the community that’s been built up here.”

Resources for students include Western’s Complete Guide to Spring 2020, the Basic Need Resource Guide and the Student Employment Center. Residents living in the dorms and seeking resources should email housing@wwu.edu.

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