Students upset as UVA forces hundreds to relocate, abandon housing plans: “The overall feeling was betrayal”

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-by Riley Wyant | September 1, 2020 at 8:36 PM EDT – Updated September 1 at 8:49 PM

“CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) – With COVID-19 cases within the University of Virginia community continuing to rise, the school decided to convert four additional dorms into quarantine housing over the weekend.

The last-minute decision left hundreds of students, including those in the International Residential College (IRC), Johnson, Malone and Weedon Houses and Shea House, only 24 hours to find an alternative.

Students are bewildered and wish the administration handled it better.

“The overall feeling was just betrayal honestly,” IRC Prime Minister and student Charmi Patel said. “Of course we were frustrated, but also we were just deeply saddened that UVA took this action without giving any prior notice.”

“The reassignments were all across grounds,” another IRC student Soumil Madhiwala said. “You could put your preferences, but where you get placed would be obviously random.”

IRC students including Patel and Madhiwala were left wondering: Why this wasn’t this decided earlier and why their room assignments?

UVA declined the opportunity to be interviewed but provided a statement saying this decision was made in ’real time’ as they learned from the mistakes of other universities and consulted with public health experts.

For students like Patel, this knee-jerk decision raises larger concerns. “If they’re already worried about making new spaces for quarantine housing, what does that really mean about UVA’s ability to welcome students back safely?”

The university’s administration claims they made the decision based on the low occupancy of IRC housing, which stood at below 35%.

For Madhiwala, the low occupancy was the main reason he opted to return to grounds. “But then things unfolded over the weekend and I started to look at more of the coronavirus stats that were coming out with UVA,” he said. “I made a decision that I would just cancel my lease and do virtual instruction isolated at home.”

Now, he’s worried about his friends who are still caught up in the mess. “It’s very tough for them because some of them absolutely hate where they’ve been reassigned,” he said.

“There’s nothing that housing can do for them because housing didn’t make this decision. It was the UVA executive team that made the decision,” Madhiwala added.

While both students understand the low occupancy reasoning behind UVA’s decision, they wish they would have given them more time and not targeted their multicultural community.

“We have a lot of international students and tearing apart this multicultural community was sort of the opposite of what they could do to help the situation that’s going on at UVA and in our country,” Patel said.

Copyright 2020 WVIR. All rights reserved.”

UVA’s Full Statement regarding the situation:

“Since the Fall 2020 committee was formed in May, the University has been planning to have a number of isolation and quarantine spaces for students who test positive and for students who are exposed to those who are positive. The very recent experiences of other colleges and universities informed our decision to increase the number of such spaces on Grounds. The dorms identified have relatively low occupancy and afforded us an opportunity to consolidate residents and free up vacant rooms for isolation and quarantine use. This decision was made in real time as we were learning from other universities and consulting with our public health experts.

As the University’s senior leadership and the Fall 2020 committee deliberated on the decision that was announced yesterday afternoon, many across Grounds worked to increase our isolation and quarantine space. The Office of Housing & Residence Life surveyed existing residences, identifying those with low overall occupancy and suited to isolation and quarantine. We also identified alternative places for those residence staff and students to live.

This decision needed to be made quickly and was made after consultation with the Provost, the Chief Operating Officer, and the Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer. The decision to stay the course this semester was announced late Friday, and Housing & Residence Life made every effort to provide the notice that they could to resident assistants, to consult SDAC, and notify students living in these residences. All impacted RAs have been assigned to new RA rooms elsewhere on Grounds. This was a difficult decision and we wish it were otherwise.

Of the 4,400 students living in our residences, this decision impacted a couple hundred students. While the decision was abrupt for many of them, most have been understanding given the circumstances and the need to designate additional isolation and quarantine space. The University will do everything it can to manage the transition for RAs and students, and to welcome them into their new residences.

A few additional details:

  • There is adequate space to accommodate all impacted students on Grounds. Students have been given an opportunity to share their preferences for reassignment through the housing portal, and Housing & Residence Life will make every effort to accommodate those preferences.
  • The occupancy of each dorm converted into isolation/quarantine housing was below 35%.
  • IRC, JMW, and Shea House residents who cancel their 2020-2021 housing contracts will not be charged housing fees, as long as they contact HRL”