National Beat Reporter
Since the start of the stay-at-home order that has rocked Isla Vista and the state of California, to a greater extent, thousands of students have been leaving UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) in droves. As a result, the dorms are virtually empty, and on-campus life feels distorted for many.
The Bottom Line conducted an interview with Jill Hurd, the director of UCSB’s Residential & Community Living, who explained that “93 percent” of students living in the dorms cancelled their contracts. She also elaborated on the wide-reach this issue has had on all of housing: 59 percent of students moved out of the apartments, 19 percent of graduate students left San Clemente, and eight families left UCSB’s family housing complex.
“The grand total includes graduate students and undergraduates, so in all of university housing, we had 7,278 canceling and we have 2,356 staying,” said Hurd. “For the residence halls we have, as of Friday … 348 students staying and 5,351 [cancelling].”
The school had to grapple with accommodating students in university housing and deciding what the best course of action would be. The first email from UCSB’s University and Housing Services was sent out on March 13, one day after the university announced to transition the quarter to online remote instruction. Expressing that they “have been working diligently on logistical details,” students were offered three housing options: continue living in their dorm or apartment, stay away until the end of April only, or cancel their contract.
This sudden announcement came as a surprise to students living in campus housing. A resident of Santa Ynez wanted to analyze the situation as time went on to see if there was even a possibility of living there still, but he eventually decided that leaving would be the best call. “While there is a silver lining to my cancellation, this whole thing blows,” said Nathan Molayem. “It sucks, but it could be worse.”
The next email came only three days after the first email and eliminated the option of staying away for the month of April only. This email also notified students that they may be relocated to a different dorm or apartment if they decide to stay and services would be modified.
On April 1, students were notified that people living in Sierra Madre and Santa Ynez 100s and 300s would “need to move, so that we can turn over empty buildings to support the government’s response to COVID-19.” Students who decided to move would be relocated to either the Santa Catalina residence hall or the San Joaquin Apartments depending on what housing they had beforehand.
Fourth-year history major Nova Nicole said that housemate relocations were the reason she decided to cancel her contract. “I cancelled my contract because I just got an email from housing saying we need to move out by Friday or be switched to a new apartment with a new housemate and no roommates,” she said. “I am already back at home so I figured if I had to go back to move my things I’d rather just take them home with me.”
Many students struggled with the decision whether to continue their university housing contracts or to cancel them and return home. Third-year psychology & brain sciences major Allana Karstetter was living in a university apartment before she decided to cancel her contract.
“I was on the fence about returning because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to effectively complete my schoolwork at home,” she said. “I rely heavily on school resources like course reserves and the library computers to complete coursework.”
First-year mathematics major Demetria Jones found the process of moving out stressful. “The [Residential Housing Association] was very unprepared. So in between being stressed over finals, packing, everyone panicking, and not knowing if I was going to get my housing money back, [it] was very overwhelming,” she said.
Although Hurd didn’t know the exact amount that the school would be losing, their priority was to refund the students. “The housing department is taking a loss but you know, it’s the right thing to do.”
The decision to cancel housing contracts comes with a huge emotional burden on many students. Both administrators and students want to keep the community safe and healthy, so these decisions weren’t made lightly. Students also have to accept that the quarter they once expected is going to be drastically different.
“I am sad that my last quarter at [UC Santa Barbara] has to occur through video chats and recordings of experiments,” said Molayem. “But I also understand the complexity of the situation and that moving out would be the safest option.”
Noe Padilla contributed reporting.