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Student housing impacted by Miami’s return to campus plans

<p>Many sophomore opted out of their on-campus housing contracts after Miami&#x27;s phased return announcement this summer, but living off campus isn&#x27;t always a cakewalk. </p>

Many sophomore opted out of their on-campus housing contracts after Miami's phased return announcement this summer, but living off campus isn't always a cakewalk.

As a result of Miami University’s late July announcement that the first five weeks of instruction would be online, many students — mostly sophomores — chose to be released from their housing and meal contracts and find housing off-campus.

Miami’s long-standing housing policy has typically required all Oxford campus first- and second-year full-time students to live in residence halls. However, in lieu of the university’s policy change, second-, third- and fourth-year students were offered the choice to nullify their 2020-2021 on-campus housing contracts. 

Brian Woodruff, director of housing and operational services, reported that 1,300 rising sophomores chose to cancel their housing contracts and live off-campus. Forty-eight juniors and seniors also canceled their contracts. 

Vicka Bell-Robinson, director of the Office of Residence Life, said she is worried about sophomore students not being as connected to the university off-campus.

“There’s data that show that students are better retained and have better persistence if they stay on-campus,” Bell-Robinson said. “I think postponing [the off-campus experience] might help students make wiser decisions about what they’re doing.”

Within the residence halls, living learning community programming for students will include both virtual and in-person components this year and will still cover all the educational portions it normally would.

“We want to recognize the pandemic, so it will be a mix of in-person and all virtual,” Bell-Robinson said of residence life programming. “All virtual [programming] defeats the purpose of being together, but to be only in-person ignores the fact that there might be health concerns.”

Bell-Robinson said students who did not opt out of their housing contract will not be moved from their original housing assignment. 

“We’re trying not to displace the spring returns by putting fall [students] in those spaces,” Bell-Robinson said. “We can’t guarantee that there won’t be any movement, but we want to do what we can to try to honor as many of those places.”

Since the announcement, property management centers like College Property Management have been experiencing an increase in leases. 

Susan Wilson, a leasing agent at College Property Management, said the office has mostly had sophomores calling to lease apartments. 

“We started out with about 15 [spaces available], and now we’re down to six,” Wilson said. “I just got a call for more, so kids are still looking.”

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Students like Lauren Sall, a sophomore psychology major, looked into off-campus options for the school year. Sall plans to move into her Level 27 Apartment in early September.

Sall said she was excited to live in Maple Street Station for her sophomore year, and initially, her plans didn’t change after Miami’s announcement. But after her friends started to acquire alternative housing, she began to change her mind.

“I was looking forward to living in a [residence hall] again,” Sall said. “But given the circumstances, [living in the apartment] is actually pretty good with everything that’s going on.”

Sall said the decision to live in an apartment instead of a residence hall was financially-driven as well as location-dependent. Sall lives in Chicago, five hours from Oxford. 

“I did some research about different places [in Oxford], and I just made a decision that was in my price range,” Sall said. “Paying for an apartment is definitely cheaper than paying for room and board at Miami.”

Miami’s off-campus fraternity houses also filled back up in the weeks before classes. 

Beta Theta Pi (Beta) opened its house for staggered move-in times the Thursday before classes started. 

Alex Orr, Beta’s President, said the fraternity’s executive board worked closely with the Forever Alpha Board, which runs Beta’shousing, and also the Interfraternity Council (IFC), to discuss plans and preparation work for re-opening the house. 

“We wanted to make sure we could continue to create a good experience for the guys in our chapter,” Orr said. “With the combination of both safety as well as wanting to make sure that we continue developing our guys, we ended up opening the house.”

Jordan Saunders, a sophomore strategic communication and business analytics major, signed a lease five days before classes began. 

Saunders said she signed the lease out of fear that the return to in-person instruction would not happen and also because the price was affordable. 

“I don’t regret [the decision],” Saunders said. “But I think there was definitely regret initially because of the state of the house, which was an absolute mess.”

Saunders said when she and her three housemates moved into their home, it hadn’t been lived in for two years. They had problems with their electricity, rotting windows, buckling floorboards, water damage and more. 

“It was fairly difficult to find [a house] because we were looking for a bunch of girls last minute,” Saunders said. “It was literally one of the last things available off-campus, so it was a little bit difficult.”

Saunders said her whole experience with housing this fall has been memorable.

“I think it is something that we will laugh about later, and it’s even something that we laugh about now,” Saunders said. “We’re just glad to be back in Oxford.”