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Students Living in DC Grapple with Reopening Reversals

BY: SOFIA DEAN

Many students have resided in Washington, DC amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as classes at American University are being held completely online for the Fall 2020 semester.

Students living in DC for the semester had already signed leases prior to the online announcements. This was the case for sophomores and upperclassmen whose original on-campus housing assignments had to change following AU's announcement about their fall 2020 action plan. The announcement outlined classes this fall would be a hybrid format and on-campus housing would have to decrease by 50% with first-years being prioritized.

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Image of Hughes Hall from American University's Housing Website.

Emily Pua was one student impacted by the shift in plans. She had originally planned to live in Hughes Hall, but her housing assignment was completely upended.

"I had huge amounts of stress trying to figure out what to do when housing got cancelled. Because originally I was told we'd be going in like three times a semester for classes at least on campus. So I knew I had to go back for a reason," Pua said.

Pua worked together with her parents and friends to quickly search for an apartment over what she described as a stressful couple of days. She was able to sign a lease at the Skyline Towers. Soon after, AU announced their plans to go fully online.

"So I wasn't too bummed because I'd already found the apartment and I was going to be living with people that I knew and liked. I wasn't too upset because honestly going in about three times a semester wouldn't have been super different than what we're doing now," Pua said.

Although the process has been stressful, Pua feels that her learning environment is better in DC. Similar to Pua, Nana Yaa Boateng also signed a lease for the semester. She was supposed to reside on campus in Anderson Hall as a first-year student. When the university announced plans to go completely virtual, she made the choice to still move to DC.

Image of AU Housing Employees Providing Resources in May 2020.

Christopher Silva, director of Housing and Residence Life outlined some of these changes:  "The first piece that we did was identify the DC body that best supports students with off-campus housing. The Office of the Tenant Advocate in DC is one that frequently works with different universities in DC, giving advice on off-campus housing. And so this time the Office of the Tenant Advocate knew that many students in DC were facing similar situations, so they made themselves available to help us develop the resources and also attend webinars that we hosted for students."

AU Housing and Residence worked with the Office of the Tenant Advocate to bring in a staff member from AU's legal counsel to provide support for students in navigating their housing contracts and leases. 

"We worked really hard in the few days leading up to the announcement to make sure that we had our webpage together. That's where we put together a list of action items because we wanted to share information with students, but we also wanted to help set them up to take action and move quickly, especially at a time where I know things were volatile and changing a lot," said Martin Sagenford, associate director of housing assignments and communications in Housing and Residence Life.

Silva and Sagenford added that their detailed webpage and webinars helped to cut down on the volume of students and families with concerns. Moving forward, they expressed that they will continue to provide these resources along with others.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused students and universities across the country to make some tough decisions. Everyone is adapting quickly, including students residing in DC and the AU Housing and Residence Life office.


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