The University of Chicago’s Housing and Residence Life (HRL) recently informed those living in the dorms that it will be enforcing stricter measures to “combat” COVID. These measures include shuttering study spaces, community kitchens, and lounges where students used to socialize. Not only has the administration barred access from everything except dorm rooms themselves, but it has also banned students from visiting each other’s rooms.
I am currently employed by the university as a resident dean assistant (RDA). RDAs play an essential role in the residential community by supporting their resident dean(s). RDA responsibilities include many tasks that directly improve the quality of life for students.
UChicago’s nonsensical and draconian COVID policies are thoroughly unfair to RDAs like me because they are nearly impossible to enforce. Instead of doing the very real job of assisting my RDs and supporting the mental and physical health of my students, I am now forced to make sure undergrads, who already feel lonely and isolated after over a year of COVID, don’t visit each other’s dorm rooms.
I did not sign up to police every single social interaction of my students, nor do I want to, given the mental toll COVID isolation has had on young people. I fear for the well-being of my students. They are being cheated out of the full dorm experience for which they paid, and they are being bullied into seclusion by the university.
As of late, I am constantly confronted by students asking, “Why are all the study rooms closed again?” Students who live in double occupancy rooms require quiet places to work outside of their rooms. They ask, “Why is the computer lab closed again?” Students who have technical issues with their personal devices rely on the computers the house provides to do work or attend Zoom classes.
Unfortunately, each time I am presented with these questions I answer that “I don’t know.” The university will not explain its harmful COVID policies to me or anyone else.
Without even controlling for comorbidities, the survival rate for Americans under 65 who have contracted COVID since February 2020 is 99.87 percent. College-aged students are suffering from suicide, depression, and anxiety, not COVID. Yet despite students not being at risk, the university has implemented mandatory arrival testing and strict mask and vaccinemandates, which students have largely complied with. Indeed, 98% of undergraduates in on-campus housing are vaccinated.
There has never been a reported COVID outbreak in UChicago’s dorms. Even Michele Rasmussen, who is the dean of students for the university, told me in person at a meeting with President Paul Alivisatos that the total number of students in isolation for COVID at the same time hadn’t surpassed three. This record was recently broken in early January following the height of Omicron cases but to date, no UChicago student has died from COVID.
Why isn’t natural immunity, two shots, a booster, arrival testing, and a mask mandate, enough to let students simply see each other? If students desire to socialize, the university will only allow them to do so outside in the frigid winter of the Windy City.
Moreover, the cost of room and board is about $17,685.00, but this number may vary depending on whether a student is living in an apartment, single, or double. If UChicago charges differently based on a student’s living accommodations, why does it charge the same amount for varying social accommodations?
The university also charges a student life fee of $1,707.00 to cover amenities and social events. However, since the start of the pandemic, students have had no access to amenities like lounges and kitchens, and there are fewer in-person social events, too. Yet students were charged the same student life fee this year as they were before the pandemic. Given that freshmen and sophomores are forced to live on campus, they are essentially required to pay for a lesser-quality social experience.
Conveniently, the university charges tuition and room and board before the quarter starts, well before it spins its lottery wheel of restrictive policies and announces what it landed on this time. This system takes away any leverage students may have in advocating for a better dorm experience or deciding if an off-campus option is better.
Given that University of Chicago Medical Center employees are not required to get boosted because they threatened to quit their jobs en masse if included in the mandate, it is safe to say that UChicago does not want to pick an equal fight with its students. Hence, in announcing its new COVID housing policies, the university provides “[No] specific timetable” or explanation for “if/when” normal life will resume. Explanations and timetables are what we use to hold officials accountable and they don’t want to be held accountable.
In the end, UChicago’s new anti-science measures defraud university students of the housing experience we paid for. Students are people, not ATMs you can kick around and expect upwards of $17,000 a year from, irrespective of the product being delivered.
UChicago’s new policies complicate the jobs of RDAs and RDs like me. Moreover, they scam us all, while negatively impacting our mental health. As an RDA, I am begging the university to free students living in the dorms from the COVID hysteria and lunacy.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Jahmiel Jackson is a second-year student at the University of Chicago, who is interested in studying Law, Letters, and Society and Computer Science. He loves competing in triathlons and playing the piano. He also hopes to be a future cast member of “Survivor.” You can reach him at @JahmielJackson on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org.