Despite objections, some undergrads on campus reassigned to new residences

April 4, 2020, 5:19 p.m.

When Nate Braun ’22 was notified that he would be reassigned to live in a new campus residence, he thought it was a bad idea.

“You’re taking a population that would be normally sedentary, and then all of a sudden you’re mobilizing them en masse and having them come into close contact with each other,” Braun said. “Being a public health student myself, it just seemed like it didn’t make sense.”

Citing concerns about student isolation, crime and the need for more space to potentially house medical workers, the University has been carrying out a “consolidation” of the roughly 640 students remaining on campus. All undergraduate students remaining in Row houses — excluding Muwekma-Tah-Ruk — would be reassigned, according to an email sent to Row staff on March 26. While most residents of the Row, Cowell Cluster and the lake houses were reassigned to Schwab Residential Center, a residence usually utilized by the Graduate School of Business, others were reassigned to Roble and Lagunita dorms.

The reassignment plans quickly elicited pushback from students. Within a day of the announcement, Sasankh Munukutla ’22 and Undergraduate Senator Mustafa Khan ’22 submitted a petition to Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole and Dean of Students Mona Hicks, asking that housing reassignments be made optional. In their petition, they argued that the mandated move would be stressful and difficult for students, could increase the chances of disease spread and may even violate Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order.

“Most undergraduates staying on campus are happy with their current housing assignment and are worried about the health hazards, hassle, stress, and increased interactions with potential carriers that moving dorms will bring during this already challenging time,” read the petition, pointing out that only 2% of undergraduates preferred to reassign, according to an informal survey conducted by Munukutla and Khan. The petition was signed by almost 100 students.

The petition, however, was unsuccessful in swaying University administrators. Brubaker-Cole ultimately rejected the idea of making reassignments optional, insisting that students must “do their part” in light of the ongoing challenges that the Stanford community faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Settings where only a few students are housed, combined with the spring quarter shift to virtual instruction, may thwart our awareness of and timely response to sexual violence, injury and illness, negative consequences of alcohol and other drugs, and psychological languishing,” Brubaker-Cole wrote in her email response. 

That reasoning was not convincing to all students, however. 

“If I’m being completely honest, I think it was an excuse to reassign people in the first place so they could lower costs of maintaining housing,” Braun said.

In response to unease expressed in the petition about potentially crowding students together, Brubaker-Cole pledged that occupancy would remain lower than 20% per dorm, with at most 10 students assigned to a given floor. She also described further measures being taken by the University: enhanced disinfecting of public spaces like bathrooms, the provision of take-out meals from dining halls, and a University-paid moving company to help students with the transition. 

“Several of the concerns brought up in the petition were addressed,” Munukutla and Khan wrote in a joint email, though they cited some remaining imperfections in the relocation procedure.

“The communication for the moving process could have been a lot better and has been the main source of worry for students,” Munukutla and Khan wrote. “There was a sizable group of students who had only 12 hours to try to pack everything and some students thus ended up moving all their belongings on their own as they missed the day when the movers could help.”

Braun, who was assigned to Schwab, a residence with suite-style accommodations and private bathroom facilities, described potential inequities in the reassignment process.

“I’m definitely one of the luckier people, having, essentially, my own hotel room,” Braun said. “It’s kind of crazy. There are people who are in Lag who need to share bathrooms with a lot of different students who normally they wouldn’t have had contact with.”

Brubaker-Cole did not address student concerns that the reassignments may be in violation of the law. Under Section 13.a.vii of Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order, moving residences is permitted, “only if it is not possible to defer an already planned move, if the move is necessitated by safety, sanitation, or habitability reasons, or if the move is necessary to preserve access to shelter.” 

Some students have argued that the move does not meet those criteria, given that students are already housed in residences that they consider to be safe, sanitary and habitable. Violation of the order is a misdemeanor.

Asked about whether the March 31 order would affect Stanford’s existing plans to reassign students, University spokesperson E.J. Miranda did not address the question, instead reiterating the University’s original reasoning for making the move.

“We are currently mid-process in moving students from residences with very small numbers of students into residences with no more than 10 students per floor so as to avoid negative mental wellbeing consequences of student isolation and security issues that could arise in sparsely populated houses spread all over campus,” Miranda wrote. “We will also be repurposing some of the newly emptied houses for additional self-isolation spaces and, potentially, housing for first responders and health care professionals.”

Stanford Residential & Dining Enterprises did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.

Contact Bryan Metzger at bmetzger ‘at’

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