Union News

COVID-19 March 15 Update: Dorm Housing

Categories: COVID-19, Union News

Dear Union Community,

I am writing to you this morning with a sense of urgency and out of deep compassion and concern for every member of our community. I have very important updates on the health risks of COVID-19 and Union’s response to it. Two important changes occurred since my last note, both of which require immediate policy changes on our part. First, we have just received word that a member of the Columbia University community is infected, and in New York City and the surrounding region, rapidly increasing numbers of people are infected. Second, the federal government is considering imposing restrictions on domestic travel. If such restrictions are imposed, New York will be dramatically impacted.

Both of these situations are serious and require the following steps. We need your help in implementing them. We need to do this together, as an act of collective, compassionate care, not the kind of compassion that’s easy just to talk about, but real, immediate compassion which requires shared sacrifice and hard actions for the good of the whole.

First, it is essential that we dramatically reduce the number of students living in our dormitory spaces. Health officials have noted dormitories with shared bathrooms as having a higher risk of spreading disease. Therefore, all students living in dormitory spaces in McGiffert, who can leave their dorm spaces, must leave by Tuesday, March 17th. This is an urgent requirement. Some students, for serious reasons, are unable to leave their dorms, and for these few remaining students, we need sufficient space to care for them, in every sense of the word. Out of care for your fellow students who must remain, it is incumbent upon those who are able to leave to do so immediately. It is an ethical necessity.

I realize that for those of you who leave, it is difficult to pack and depart on such short notice, and we stand ready to help in any way we can. In cases of extreme hardship, we have limited funds available to help with your departure. Since these funds are limited, I ask that you please leave them available for those with the greatest need. Packing materials are available on the ground floor of McGiffert and facilities staff are on call to assist. Given the immediacy of this departure period, you can leave non-essential items in your rooms such as furniture, etc. Your rooms will be secured until we determine it is safe to return and reclaim them. As stated in my previous notes, all students who leave will receive a two-month housing refund.

Second, offices and classrooms in Auburn hall will remain open for staff and faculty only. We are closing all spaces on the main campus where people commonly gather, including James Chapel, the small chapel, the computer room and the Pit. During this period, all meetings must be virtual.

Third, because we will still have a small number of students in our dormitory areas, we will not allow any visitors into these dorm spaces. We also ask that other residents in McGiffert seriously limit visitors. We are not able to closely monitor these restrictions so we urge everyone in McGiffert to self-monitor. It is crucial that we all take these restrictions very seriously in order to assure the safety of all residents.

Fourth, students and faculty living in apartments and studios in McGiffert are not required to leave. Like all New York residents living in apartments, you should practice recommended steps for cleanliness, social distancing and you should have a plan in place for social isolation should that be needed.

Fifth, for students living in International House, if you are in a studio, it is my understanding that you do not need to leave. For those in dorms, please follow the policies that International House is implementing. Union is in constant conversation with International House.

Sixth, all McGiffert dorm students who remain on campus must immediately register with Michael O so we know the reason why you are staying and can see to your care. All departing students should also alert Michael O so that we know the status of your room.

Seventh, you will be hearing from the Academic Office in the coming days with responses to your many questions about academic expectations. We intend for instruction to continue remotely, and we are prepared to hold our summer courses remotely, if needed.

Eighth, we are working with the Chapel staff to provide alternate ways of spiritual connection and ritual, something we all need. You will hear more on that in the days to come.

Please visit the Union COVID-19 webpage for updates and information. If you have questions or concerns, please contact Dean Charlene Visconti (cvisconti@uts.columbia.edu) and Michael O (michaelo@uts.columbia.edu).

These are trying times, to be sure. Everyone I speak to is in a state of shock about the rapidly changing, serious nature of this pandemic. It is an unprecedented situation around the world that requires difficult, practical acts of compassion by us all.

Please remember to take deep breaths, make sure you get enough rest, talk to friends and family often, keep up with your classes, pray and meditate, and know that the practical actions of compassion you take today have the power to save lives. You are at Union to learn how to be leaders of spiritual depth and ethical wisdom. Now is a time we are being called to make this education a reality.