Residence halls tripled in occupancy this semester as GW works to bring more students back to campus under strict COVID-19 guidelines.
About 1,500 students flocked to campus for the spring, with 500 returning from the fall and 1,000 arriving for the first time this academic year, said Seth Weinshel, the assistant dean for campus living and residential education. Weinshel said students must follow several COVID-19 guidelines on campus, including weekly COVID-19 tests, daily symptom checks, social distancing, mask-wearing and closing rooms from guests.
“While students are on campus, we expect certain behaviors from our community to help control the spread of the virus,” he said in an email.
Weinshel said students moved into District and Potomac houses and Shenkman, South and Francis Scott Key halls, where students have their own bedroom and share a bathroom with no more than one other student per COVID-19 regulations.
He said students who lived on campus during the fall semester returned to campus the weekend of Jan. 9, while new students moved in over the past two weekends. About 700 students moved in during the first weekend following the presidential inauguration, and 200 students moved in this past weekend, he said.
Freshmen make up the largest group of returning students with about 450 residents, while seniors are the smallest group, Weinshel said. He said officials tried grouping students in residence halls by class year, and Potomac House and FSK Hall include the largest number of freshmen.
Weinshel said all on-campus residents were required to complete a 30-minute online training course about living on campus during the pandemic prior to move-in.
He said Campus Living and Residential staff members reminded residents about their responsibilities through the check-in process and will note it during “mandatory virtual hall meetings” with area coordinators a week after move-in and individual meetings with students during the semester.
He added that officials are planning a “virtual forum” for students’ family members to hear about campus living.
“We really are excited to be welcoming more students on campus this spring,” Weinshel said. “While it was nice to have a limited number of students on campus for the fall, as we bring more students back to campus, it is beginning to feel like life is getting back to normal.”
Housing officials announced in October they would open nine residence halls for 1,500 new student resident applications who would join the 500 students living on campus. Only about 1,100 students applied, and Weinshel said some students have canceled since December because of COVID-19 concerns or security fears surrounding the presidential inauguration.
Weinshel declined to say how many students live in each residence hall and the percentage of filled beds on campus. He also declined to say how officials plan to enforce a no-guest policy in residence halls and how they decided the number of students in each residence hall.
Almost a dozen students living on campus said the influx of residents didn’t raise their personal COVID-19 concerns, and they anticipate socializing safely and isolating in a more focused learning environment this spring on campus.
Haley Stanks, a freshman living in Potomac House, said she decided to move to campus to feel more connected to the GW community while living in a socially-distant environment with mask-wearing and a roommate cap. Officials limit units to two students, except in South Hall, which can house up to four students in each unit.
“We need to get tested every week, which I really like because I feel like it’s protecting everyone in the community,” she said. “It’s exciting to think I could be walking outside of my dorm room and maybe see someone I have a class with that I just haven’t met before. I think everyone is so relieved to be here.”
Stanks said the University’s socially-distant move-in process was well organized. Students needed to choose a designated time slot to move into their residence hall to avoid crowding in each building.
Kay Jewler, a sophomore living in Shenkman Hall, said she decided to move back to campus this spring so she could better experience college life, reunite with her friends and apply for internship opportunities around the District.
“I’m excited that I’m back in D.C. and can hopefully get a little bit of a semblance of what school was like before all of this happened,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing people my age again and experiencing the types of things I had gotten used to my freshman year, like having independence or just doing things for myself.”
Emir Johnson, a freshman living in Potomac House, said restrictions like the University’s no-guest policy make it difficult to meet new people, but he said he understands how social adjustments need to be made during the pandemic.
“I feel like it takes a lot away from campus life if you’re not allowed to have guests in your room and stuff like that,” Johnson said. “But I understand that there is also a pandemic, so there are certain things we just won’t be able to do.”
Melanie Campbell, a freshman living in South Hall, said housing policy restrictions were “reasonable,” and she can better manage her workload while on campus.
“Everything is pretty fair,” she said. “This is the first time they are having this many students back on campus during the pandemic, and I think that’s definitely a reasonable restriction at least for the beginning of the semester.”
This article appeared in the February 1, 2021 issue of the Hatchet.