Our View: The University needs to get its house in order

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Update, 9/22/2020: A day after the publication of this editorial, the Crimson Choice website is now inactive.

The pandemic, like a particularly insightful home inspector, has been brutal in illuminating some of the more egregious cracks in the foundation of our social contract. It’s been hard to ignore the age-old institutions deteriorating around us – including The University of Alabama.

Since late March, The Crimson White has nagged administrators about providing appropriate PPE, testing transparency and a plan of protection for student workers. A lack of foresight from the University resulted in students beginning the semester with a lackluster plan. Plan, actually, might be a strong word, given that the UA Return Plan included minimal instructions on how to properly social distance in public spaces, a lack of detailed consequences for students who violate COVID-19 safety guidelines and the absence of security for student jobs on campus. 

It was only a matter of time before student housing felt the aftershocks of implementing this shoddy plan.

Recently, UA student worker Carlee Fernandez decided to leave her job as a desk assistant at Burke West residence hall due to the risk she faced of contracting the virus. Fernandez told The Crimson White that no instructions nor forms of protection were given to student workers as COVID-19-positive students arrived for check-in at the dorm. UA administration has since moved the student desk assistants to a nearby dorm, Parham Hall, to place them in a safer environment. 

Bailey Lanai, UA student residence hall desk assistant, mentioned that he wished the University accommodated them earlier to avoid the potential risk that occurred. The lack of communication between UA Housing and students continued as many were forced to relocate dorms after the commencement of classes and roommate assignments. Amalia Halpin, a former UA student who lived in Burke West, made the decision to drop out of school after discovering that the residence hall would be utilized for more quarantine space after an increase in COVID-19 cases on campus.

The actions of Housing and Residential Communities this semester haven’t just roughed up the freshman year experience of more than a few rookie students. They’ve also proved to the UA community that the UA Return Plan focused more on monetary gain than the safety of students, faculty and staff. 

Not only did the University mindlessly shuffle around students planning to live on campus, but it sent them off on painfully short notice and with nothing but a wad of Monopoly money for their troubles. According to accounts of students in isolation, it also failed to provide adequate staff and resources to accommodate dietary restrictions. The class of 2024 shouldn’t have to pay the price for gaping holes found within a plan constructed by distant administrators and trustees. The issues presented by The Crimson White as well as other campus organizations such as Safe Return UA and United Campus Workers of Alabama, if acknowledged, would have helped in closing these gaps. 

The majority of UA students reside off-campus but face similar fears of contracting the virus due to poor leadership and implementation of health safety. The Grand at Rum Creek and The Lofts at City Center both informed their residents of positive COVID-19 cases on their respective properties. Although an announcement was made via email, the only protocol and guidelines stated to avoid further contraction were to wear PPE and continue social distancing. Both facilities closed their main offices due to COVID-19 but kept common areas such as the gym, pool and study areas open without thorough, regularly scheduled cleaning.

The meager safety precautions for off-campus student housing appears to be a trend within the Tuscaloosa community, which poses a threat to us all, seeing that a profusion of students reside in those complexes. It’s alarming that the University has failed to inform off-campus student housing of the necessary protocols to keep us all safe, especially since both said apartment complexes are Crimson Choice certified through the UA Off-Campus Resources department. In addition, the Lofts at City Center is the property that the University rented out to shift students from Bryce Lawn and the Highlands to create quarantine spaces. You’d think that a University with such public trust in a property would address the concerns of students residing there. You’d be wrong.

The issues with off-campus housing were present prior to the pandemic. In 2019, both The Hub and Parker 301 came under fire for poor living conditions and violence within the communities. Parker 301 residents expressed concern about mice and rodent infestation in the community, not to mention a robbery that ended with a gunman accidentally shooting an innocent resident, who died from the gunshot. The Hub, known for providing luxury student housing, provided a “less than luxury” experience as residents complained of flooding and mold throughout the property. So, it’s no surprise that these complexes are dropping the ball. Yet, off campus and on, the University has been almost devoid of concern for the student population. 

Months after a series of cluster reports led the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to shut down, the UA System finally released a COVID-19 dashboard. But transparency can only go so far when the data lacks details. We urge the University to follow the lead of colleges around the nation – including Troy University, in our home state – to publish cases that occur in residence halls and off-campus student housing. In addition to transparency, the University should make amends to the students it’s harmed with its hasty decisions. The University can’t erase its mishaps, but with open communication and accountability we can begin to move forward.

The Crimson White Editorial Board is composed of Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Griesbach, Managing Editor Leah Goggins, Engagement Editor Adaya Jackson, Chief Copy Editor Bhavana Ravala and Opinions Editor Mikayla Wyatt.