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Students and faculty navigate residence life plans in a COVID-19 world

<p>Residence halls implement new COVID-19 color coding system to track the spread of the virus. </p>

Residence halls implement new COVID-19 color coding system to track the spread of the virus.

As on-campus students begin planning to return to campus in September, questions about what residence life will actually look like in the age of COVID-19 are arising. 

Vicka Bell-Robinson, director of Residence Life, has spent the last few weeks trying to answer as many of these questions as she can. Robinson said she stressed that while life in a dorm may be different than before, the Office of Residence Life is working to make it as easy as possible. 

While prepping for students’ return to campus, and particularly after it was announced that move-in for underclassmen would be pushed back five weeks, Robinson has made it her mission to address students' worries and uncertainties about living on campus.

“Everyone has to be smarter about how they’re living in their community,” Robinson said.

Students will be required to wear masks in all areas of residence halls except their own room, and each hall will be cleaned regularly.

Students will be allowed to visit other dorms, but Bell-Robinson recommended that students limit the number of people they are around. No overnight visitors will be allowed this semester. While guests will not be required to check in at residence halls while visiting a dorm, RAs will be monitoring the activity and watching for overnight guests, who may be asked to leave.

Robinson also pointed out that RAs will not be expected to watch their residents’ every move, and that much of the responsibility falls on those living in the dorm to follow the rules and keep things clean.

“Keep your circle small, and keep your circle familiar,” Bell-Robinson said. “If someone gets sick in your circle, at least you know who they’ve been around.”

If a student living in a residence hall does contract COVID-19, Bell-Robinson said the process for addressing the virus will vary from case to case. The student will be asked to quarantine and isolate, and further action will depend on the level of exposure other students may have had. 

Bell-Robinson said the possibility of an entire residence hall corridor having to quarantine would be highly unlikely.

And as for the matter of scheduled bathroom breaks?

“We dismissed that pretty quickly,” Bell-Robinson said. 

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Bell-Robinson also addressed the uncertainty that has come with nearly-last-minute changes from the university. She said that Residence Life staff was not notified of the phased-in move-in plan until just before the rest of the student body.

“We’re literally all experiencing this at the same time,” Bell-Robinson said.

This short notice also affected Resident Assistants (RAs), many of whom had been planning to move into their dorm in a matter of days and were left scrambling.

Sophomore Riss Hasseman, who is planning to be an RA in Minnich Hall, learned of the delayed move-in date just two days before she planned to fly to Ohio from her home in California.

Hasseman had already shipped her all of her belongings to Oxford, leaving her with just a few changes of clothes, a plane ticket to an empty campus and nowhere to stay. 

“When I found out, I kind of panicked,” she said.

Hasseman began contacting all of her friends in Ohio, trying to find someone who would be willing to take her in for the next month.

She flew into Ohio on July 30 and immediately had to retrieve her belongings from her storage locker, which she needed to vacate by Aug. 1.

She had no trouble deciding whether or not to keep her job as an RA and remains optimistic.

“I’d worked so hard to become an RA, and I’d looked forward to it,” Hasseman said. “And I didn’t want to just leave … and leave the rest of my corridor just empty. I didn’t want anyone to be just more stressed out trying to find an RA.”

Junior Piper Hamilton, who plans to be a second-year RA in Hahne Hall, also found her plans disrupted with the phased-in semester plans.

“I think we were all kind of left in the dark, and we were kind of confused as to what the university was going to do,” she said.

Hamilton plans to keep her job as an RA whenever she is able to return to campus, although she took time to consider all of her options.

Throughout the summer, as plans with Residence Life began to change, RAs were given three options: come back as an RA when move-in is allowed, defer to the spring semester or resign completely. Any RA who deferred to the spring would be considered first but had no guarantee that a position would be available.

Robinson explained that RAs were given the opportunity to make the choice that they considered best for themselves.

“No harm, no foul on whatever they decided to do,” she said.

For Hamilton, this was the main factor in her decision to remain an RA for the fall semester, as she didn’t want to lose that job security.

Both Hamilton and Hasseman are continuing to adjust their plans in light of the newfound difficulties that come with the job, including planning remote events and getting to know residents.

“It’s going to be really difficult, I think, and it’s going to require a lot of teamwork and innovation on everyone, and creativity, to try and make this work and hopefully have a successful residence hall,” Hamilton said.

They both praised Residence Life for their support throughout the changes and said that the office was the main factor in allowing things to run smoothly.

They both also still remain hopeful that students will be able to return to campus in September and encourage off-campus students to wear masks and continue to social distance.

Robinson said that off-campus students need to be mindful in how they live and work in Oxford, as a large part of the responsibility falls on them to keep COVID numbers down.

“We’re depending on them to be able to open residence halls,” she said.