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Students plan for the spring semester amidst uncertainties about on-campus housing and COVID-19

Remote, on-leave sophomores express frustrations with the lack of availability for housing and long waitlist numbers

When Hannah Severyns ’23 initially saw the announcement that all students would be welcomed back to campus for the spring, she was happy that she would have the chance to return to College Hill.

Two weeks later, Severyns received an email from the Office of Residential Life which she described as “a slap in the face” as she saw that she was number 568 on the waitlist for on-campus or Brown-leased housing.

The University announced that all students currently living on campus could maintain their location of study and seniors currently studying remotely are guaranteed on-campus or Brown-leased housing in the spring. Students that were studying remotely or taking a leave of absence could request to live on campus but would be placed on a waiting list if the number of requests was greater than the number of available spots.

The waitlist ranks students hoping to live on campus next semester according to class year and whether they have taken leave. Juniors currently studying remotely have priority, followed by remote sophomores, and then seniors, juniors and sophomores currently on leave.

In an email to the Herald, Tracy Mansour P’22, director of residential operations at Reslife, wrote that Reslife expects to provide 3,198 housing spots for on-campus or Brown-leased housing.

Mansour added that 3,733 students had requested to live on campus or in Brown-leased housing. On Nov. 21, Mansour said that there were 526 students on the on-campus housing waitlist. 

It was not immediately clear why some students had higher waitlist numbers than 526 as of Nov. 21.

In a follow-up email to the Herald Nov. 23, Mansour wrote that there “will be periodic updates to the waitlist numbers as students are let off and other students ask to be removed to switch to a different location of study.” 

Severyns, who took a leave of absence in the fall to work on a political campaign, said that she was surprised and disappointed that not all sophomores were automatically allowed back on campus. She added that the University “painted the picture” that if sophomores were allowed on campus, the entire class would be allowed back.

She believes that remote and on-leave students are “being punished” for choosing not to come to campus by having them be lower priority on the waiting list. 

Joon Nam ’23, who is currently studying remotely from Seoul, South Korea, said that he “really didn’t want to do another remote semester.” Nam said that as an international student, studying remotely was a huge challenge due to time zone differences, adding that he felt isolated and disconnected from the Brown community.

International students are automatically guaranteed spots on campus “if studying remotely will cause hardship due to travel restrictions, visas or access to employment training programs in the United States,” ResLife wrote in an email to international students. 

But since Nam did not face any of those specific challenges, he was not guaranteed an on-campus spot.

Initially, Nam said that he hoped that he could get a spot on campus, but as time passed he felt that the University didn’t have as much space as he anticipated. Being number 435 on the waitlist, Nam does not expect to be able to get a spot on campus, so for him the email from Reslife was just confirmation that he might have to face another remote semester.

The University asked students whether they would be willing to accept housing in a hotel room downtown. Mansour wrote in an email to the Herald that students would be living in single-occupancy rooms and students on meal plans would have meals delivered to their door. Mansour added that hotel rooms would cost the same for students as on-campus housing.

Nam said that he would only accept a hotel room if the University rents out the entire hotel.. Unless the entire hotel were occupied by Brown students, he believes that living in a hotel room would be unsafe since many SARS and COVID-19 outbreaks have been associated with hotels.

Nam does not want to take a leave of absence and study in the summer term instead of the spring because he thinks it would be “too exhausting” to do three back-to-back semesters.

Nam said it feels disappointing to be going into his second remote semester. Counting next spring, a quarter of his time at Brown will have been online. He added that he hopes he can get through next semester and is considering asking for workload reduction.

“I have accepted defeat to the system a long time ago,” said Nam. “I am expecting it to be rough, I am expecting it to be soul sucking, I am expecting it to be draining, I am expecting myself not having the greatest time. I am just gonna try to power through the best I can.”

Like Nam, Severyns said that she believes she will not be able to get a space on campus at all.

“When I think that 567 people need to drop or not accept housing in order for me to have a spot on campus, ... it just feels very impossible that I will even have a chance to come back,” said Severyns. 

Severyns, who is working with the assumption that she will not be able to return to campus, is planning either for another semester on leave or for a remote semester. Since she does not want to do an entire semester of remote learning, she hopes she can find a job that “will be worth taking a leave for.” She is considering working in a national park to avoid more screen time.

At 150 on the waitlist, Clive Johnston ’23 is also working with the assumption of not returning to campus this spring since, like Nam, he doesn't want to live in a hotel room.

During the summer, Johnston was unsure at first of whether he wanted to come back to campus. He requested to return since “there was no harm” in doing so and later switched to remote.

Johnston initially started his fall semester studying remotely from Germany but then moved back to his family home in New York because of new lockdowns in Europe. For the spring, Johnston is making plans to rent a house and live in a pod with his friends from high school, like other students from Brown have done this semester.

Noah Vaughan ’23 is more optimistic about his chances of returning to Providence. 

Studying remotely this fall, Vaughan requested on-campus housing for the spring since, unlike the previous semester, most of his friends were also planning to return to campus. Having gotten number 83 on the waitlist, Vaughan believes he has a “slim” chance of living in on-campus or Brown-leased housing, but has “a good shot” at getting a place in a hotel room.

Like Nam, Vaughan stated that he wouldn’t want to study during the summer semester since, as an engineering student, he wants to complete a summer internship.

Despite desires to return to College Hill, each student interviewed by The Herald stated that they believe the University should not bring more students on campus if public health conditions do not allow it.

Nam said that although he wishes he was able to come back, he believes that safety of students should be considered over all other factors when deciding to open campus.

“One of the worst things the University could do is have a push to get students to campus when you can’t get them safely,” Nam said.

Johnston added that he believes the University has done a good job at being transparent with students and offering students options that also are consistent with health and safety protocols.

“It sucks, but it’s the best we can do with what we have — it's not ideal but it’s okay,” said Jonhston.

The decision to increase the community population also has implications for those living on College Hill.

Sydney Cummings ’21, a student-athlete currently living off-campus, said that she was surprised by Paxson’s decision to welcome more students back to campus, as cases are rising both nationally and in Rhode Island.

Cummings added that she hopes the students that do return to campus are able to follow the public health guidelines. While recognizing that life under these guidelines is “not a normal college life,” Cummings hopes that incoming students “follow the rules and realize that this is just a moment in time.”

Still, those who have never been able to live on campus are looking forward to the spring, even though the experience will not be normal.

Selena Kiu ’24, an incoming first-year, said that even if there are many public health restrictions in place she feels grateful that she has the chance to come to College Hill in January.

As an international student living in the United Kingdom, Kiu said that the time zone and the distance from Brown would pose many challenges to connecting with the community and keeping up with her classes.

Gidget Rosen ’24 echoed Kiu, adding that she believes that because the class of 2024 will only have experienced Brown in a pandemic, they will adhere more to guidelines.

“We have not been on campus, and people really want to be there, and we wouldn’t take it for granted as much as we normally would,” Rosen said.


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