Fall housing plans create uncertainty for students

Some students are still deciding whether to live in on-campus residence halls as the University plans to have in-person classes during the fall semester while COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Texas. 

Over 1,500 students canceled their on-campus housing contracts as of July 12, leaving 5,858 with contracts, said Aaron Voyles, director for Residence Hall Operations. In fall of 2019, 7,022 students had housing contracts and only 671 students canceled, Voyles said.

Voyles said UT removed the fee for canceling housing contracts, but is not offering more single-occupancy rooms than before the pandemic. He said University Housing and Dining considered general student well-being when deciding to keep double-occupancy rooms. 

“If you go to single occupancy, you have fewer spaces on campus as well and students shipped off campus,” Voyles said. “They may be pushed into more dense areas with multiple roommates.  There may be transportation issues that they have to manage, higher student costs to pay for singles off campus.”

Single rooms with private bathrooms offer the best protection from COVID-19 spread, according to guidance for living on campus on the Protect Texas Together website. Biology junior Kylie Benavides said she does not want to live in a double-occupancy room as her two autoimmune diseases put her at high risk for severe complications due to COVID-19.

“I lived in a dorm last year in Kinsolving,” Benavides said. “It was so small. If your roommate gets coronavirus, there's a very high chance that you're going to get it too, from living in such a close space.”

Voyles said UHD plans to block off certain rooms, decrease furniture in lounges, add barriers between sinks in community bathrooms and prohibit guests as extra precautions. 

Voyles said students who need any medical accommodations would need to coordinate with Services for Students with Disabilities. Benavides said she requested a single-occupancy room through SSD, but is also looking for an off-campus apartment. She said she is worried she will not complete the process before she has to move.

Sara Kennedy, manager of strategic and executive communications for the Office of the Dean of Students, said the Student Conduct and Academic Integrity team is launching a new referral form specifically for health and safety rules. Voyles said students will be asked to sign an amendment to UHD terms and conditions agreeing to health and safety expectations.

Kennedy said any student who does not follow health and safety rules around COVID-19 will be issued one written warning, which will stay on their file and appear to professional and graduate schools. 

“Students refusing to adhere to rules will most likely be suspended from UT,” Kennedy said. 

Spandana Kamepalli, incoming business honors and finance freshman, said she will live in  Jester West Residence Hall and hopes other residents take social distancing seriously.

“I'm going (to live on-campus) because I feel like I might miss out on stuff if I don't,” Kamepalli said. “Once we’re moved in, I want (others) to not hang out with huge groups and wear a mask when they go out, just take precautions like everyone does when they’re at home and not be tempted to change how they’re quarantining because they’re in a dorm.”