EDITORIAL: Requests to improve living conditions for students amid the COVID-19 pandemic
In the last few weeks, life for the Brandeis community has abruptly and significantly changed as the University responds to the developing COVID-19 pandemic. This board hopes that students, faculty, staff, administrators and their families are staying safe and healthy amid the chaos, and we commend the efforts that the entire community has devoted to protecting and supporting each other during this time.
We also appreciate that the University has continued to provide housing for students who need it. However, students living on campus have experienced issues with University communication over the last few weeks. Students living on campus have been told to prepare to move suddenly or been given various timelines of when updates might be sent out, creating a sense of instability and anxiety. Students have also been repeatedly asked by email and in person when and if they are leaving, a process which has made some students feel unwelcome on campus, even if they have had their requests to stay approved. There is also not a clear appeals process for students who had their requests denied.
Department of Community Living and Facilities Services staff have repeatedly come into student living spaces without prior notice, degrading students’ sense of privacy in their own homes. This is especially inconvenient because most public spaces are closed, meaning that student housing functions as classrooms, work spaces and living areas.
This board urges the University to improve its communication with students regarding who will occupy their spaces by sending an email in advance of any visits by DCL or Facilities staff. Additionally, this board encourages the University to use the “stop signs” that were posted in previous years on the doors of students who were staying in late-stay or transitional housing. This would clarify students’ departure dates so DCL and Facilities would know better which rooms to enter.
The process of moving students into new dorms also lacked transparency. In a March 23 email, University President Ron Liebowitz said that all students would soon receive new rooming information and should be prepared to move, as “reassignments may begin within 24 hours.” One cannot easily settle into a new routine while worrying constantly about being moved. When students were finally updated about their housing situation in a March 26 DCL email, some students were told they would be given new roommates. However, students were not told the names of their new roommates, how many they would receive or that some new roommates would be moving in that day. The University should have communicated these details more thoroughly to avoid student confusion and shock at finding strangers moving into their living spaces.
Now that students have been moved into new rooms, there has been concern over how student health is being prioritized as residential life is consolidated. This board calls on the University to share how they used health and safety guidelines to design the current room assignments.
This board also wants to ensure that students who are remaining on campus are able to access basic food, hygiene, toiletry and other products from an on-campus resource. The Hoot Market, along with all campus dining retail operations, closed on March 20, per a March 17 email from the Health Center. In an email to the Justice, Director of Media Relations Julie Jette said the University does not plan to reopen the market, but noted that The Department of Public Safety runs a shuttle to Market Basket on weekday afternoons and that students can walk to Walgreens from campus. She added that Facilities staff has provided a “cleaning kit” to students remaining on campus to account for that student need.
While this board appreciates efforts being made to ensure students have access to grocery and pharmacy outlets, there is a significant difference between buying items with points on campus and with money off campus. Additionally, the physical act of leaving campus to go shopping presents a potential health risk to both the students and other members of the Waltham community.
This board calls on the University to consider ways to reopen the Hoot Market, not to its fullest capacity, but in a limited way. The “new” Hoot Market should focus on providing the most essential groceries, medical supplies and hygiene products so that students can use their points and avoid the potential health risks of leaving campus. To take this initiative a step further, the University could give students who have returned home the option to donate their points to students remaining on campus, ensuring continued access to the Market.
Thus, the recommendations of this board are as follows: the University should improve communication between students, DCL and the Facilities Staff about housing, as well as reopening the Hoot Market in some capacity to provide students with necessary groceries and medical supplies.
Finally, this board would like to commend the important work being done by the Emergency Student Grant Fund. We urge those who are able to donate to the Fund on its website.
—Cameron Cushing is an editor for the Justice and will be a community advisor for DCL next semester. He did not contribute to this editorial.