Amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh announced in an email Tuesday evening that all on-campus residence halls will be closing for the rest of the semester beginning March 27. Refunds will be administered for room and meal plan alterations by no later than April 10.
At 5 p.m. on March 27, students' access to on-campus residential facilities via their ZagCard will be deactivated. To accommodate anyone whose travel plans are compromised by the coronavirus, students can return to their living arrangements to move completely out until April 13 at 5 p.m. Resources available for students to alleviate any concerns, questions or problems are found on ZagLiving, and Housing and Residence Life offices are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for further guidance.
"We have also shared that if they're not able to return to campus, that we'll work to pack their belongings and get them their belongings in some form or fashion, whether that's if they would like it to be stored or if they'd like it to be mailed to their home," said Jon Wheeler, director of residence life. "There's a lot of grace in terms of figuring out how to adequately get people what they need without having to have them travel here or expose their roommates or spread the exposure."
Tuesday's announcement comes after McCulloh's email from last Thursday, in which he notified the community of the university's decision to move to online classes following the conclusion of spring break on March 23 and discouraged students from returning to their on-campus homes. However, at that time, international students were permitted to remain in their residencies.
After this most recent decision, they, along with housing-insecure students (students who are otherwise homeless) and those who cannot leave campus, may apply to stay in their residencies. Those who fall under any of these categories must fill out a Request to Stay form, which is found on ZagLiving, by noon on March 23. These requests will be handled on an case-by-case basis.
"Gonzaga's trying to protect the safety of all students. But looking at international students, they may have different circumstances," said Melissa Heid, assistant director, international student and scholar services. "It's not about getting a flight to California or even Tennessee. There are people who are trying to fly to countries whose borders have already been shut down, so they literally can't go there."
International students whose means of returning to their permanent residence or returning to GU for the 2020 fall semester is in flux, housing-insecure students and those who require on-campus resources (WiFi, labs, etc.) to conduct their studies will take priority among waiver applicants. Although, anyone with a case outside of these situations will be heard as well.
Heid said one hurdle for international students regarding these waivers is that some are at GU studying English, so they necessitate assistance in filling out the forms to apply for a housing exemption, something Heid and her team offer. Similarly, employees in the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) are available for translation services to communicate the ongoing news updates to families of international students.
For international students who have previously left campus with no intention to return this semester, but still own belongings at GU, Heid said CGE staff has offered to move these students out of their room by boxing up items. However, she said they aren't sure as to what happens after the living space is vacated.
"Does it mean keeping things here in storage? Does it mean sending it home? We don't have any answers there yet," Heid said. "That probably will continue to be on a case-by-case basis because, obviously, someone's needing laptop to do schoolwork is very different than access to their, I don't know, badminton equipment. In the days ahead, we're gonna have more decisions and more information about what the next steps are."
Wheeler said the number of students still living on campus might peak at a population density under 1,000, which warrants moving everyone into an "appropriately distanced but central location." At this point, it is unknown how many people will apply to stay in their residencies or how many of these exemptions will be granted.
"If we're under 500 [students], we would likely consolidate to apartments, so Burch, Corkery, perhaps Kennedy, depending on how many empty spaces we have after most of the students have moved out," Wheeler said.
For students who continue to inhabit on-campus housing, McCulloh, in Tuesday's email, said they "must agree to abide by a more restrictive set of standards for personal conduct." Wheeler said the only new concrete policy is to prohibit social gatherings larger than the maximum amount of people who can live in a given residential hall. For traditional dorms, that is two. For apartments, that can vary, but generally caps out at six.
Some residence assistants have remained on campus throughout this extended spring break but none of them are mandated to continue doing so moving forward. Regardless, Wheeler said they are allowed to stay if they please, though the required personnel may shrink if the on-campus population does the same.