An entire residence hall of University of Alabama students is being cleared out by Wednesday night as the school continues to make adjustments following a rise in coronavirus cases on campus — a response that has drawn the anger of at least one parent of a student in that dorm who said the university should shut down and go to online-only classes.
Tee Quillin, a Huntsville actor and father of an 18-year-old freshman in the Burke West Residence Hall on campus, shared a letter his daughter received Monday from the university informing her and other students at Burke West that they would be assigned new rooms elsewhere and that they would have to move by Wednesday night.
While the letter said the decision was made because of a “high vacancy rate” within the dorm, the university said in a statement to AL.com that the students were reassigned to make the dorm available “for expanded COVID-19 isolation facilities.” UA’s isolation capacity for COVID-19 students is at nearly 20 percent.
“Consolidation is standard practice as availability is reviewed at the beginning of each semester to make the most efficient and effective use of space. We appreciate the assistance of these students as we navigate these changes. Their costs will not increase regardless of where they are moved. Each will also be provided UA service to transport their belongings to new housing and $250 in Bama Cash,” the statement said. “We are proceeding with consolidation of students as quickly as possible to make sure that the campus is prepared for any additional isolation housing needs. Housing staff attempted to pair roommates as much as possible, and almost half of all students who were moved were placed with their roommates, but consolidating space sometimes means students would be moved into the rooms available.”
The letter also said that the university could not guarantee that students would be assigned a room with their original roommate.
Quillin’s daughter was not paired with her initial roommate, a friend from Huntsville. Quillin said that was a cause for concern since his daughter and her roommate were aware of where they traveled, helping to and limit their exposure to the virus.
“They had been pretty much together the whole time. They knew where each other had been, they knew they weren’t going to parties or mingling …so there was a lot of trust involved,” he said. “Being with someone else that you don’t know, there’s not that trust.”
The change in dorms came with little warning Monday night, Quillin said, adding that his daughter moved to her new room in Burke Eastr but had not been provided with a bed by Tuesday afternoon.
“They’re all terrified. They weren’t given anything other than, ‘You’re going to be moved. Goodnight, we’ll see you tomorrow,‘” he said. “It has turned into a comedy of errors.”
Quillin said the shuffling of student housing is a symptom of a larger problem, after the university banned all on-campus events for 14 days among other restrictions last week in response to a sharp rise in coronavirus cases following throngs of students patronizing local bars without masks or practicing social distancing. The university has reported 531 coronavirus cases among students, faculty and staff — 94 percent of all reported cases at the University of Alabama System, which includes UAB and UA-Huntsville.
“If this is such a problem that they’re having to clear out an entire dorm building to make room for COVID-19 beds, that seems to me that would be a pretty good indication that maybe we ought to close down,” he said, adding that “the on-campus experience is shot too, because they cant go out, they can’t socialize. It doesn’t make sense why [school] isn’t online.”
Updated to include a statement from the University of Alabama.