Students move out of dorms amid coronavirus threats


Standing in his half-dismantled dorm room in Campbell Hall, sophomore history major Evan Heggen packed clothes into a suitcase.

“I was really upset,” he said. “All of my friends don’t live close to me, so this is the time we get to spend together, and it’s getting cut a month and a half short.”   

Across the street in Lawther Hall, sophomore TESOL teaching major Ethan Vance checked his mail for the last time and turned in the key.

““It’s not that bad,” Vance said, referring to the move-out process, “but usually I taper my stuff out throughout the spring semester. So [now] it’s everything at once, which is stressful.”

Vance and Heggen were just two of the UNI students who returned to campus to pack up their rooms after UNI’s decision to move all classes online for the rest of the semester and close residence halls due to the threat of COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus).

“We can no longer maintain our residential communities in the same manner that we have during the academic year,” wrote Department of Residence (DOR) officials in an email Wednesday, March 18 to students living in residence halls. “As the largest generation of citizens in the US, your activism in keeping yourself and others safe during this time is critical to limiting the spread of this pandemic.” 

To maintain social distancing recommendations, students were asked to move out during a designated time on either Thursday, Friday or Saturday based on alphabetical order of last name. Students were also asked to complete their move-out in 2 hours or less and to do so by themselves, bringing no more than two individuals to assist if needed. Those unable to meet their scheduled move-out time were asked to move out no later than 4:30 p.m. on Monday, March 23.

Vance said he felt the DOR’s first email was aggressive.

“The way they worded it was dumb, and they only gave [some] people 24 hours’ notice,” he said.

The DOR released a second email on Thursday morning apologizing for the “lack of context” in Wednesday’s email. The update indicated that students who were unable or did not want to return to campus by Monday would be able to store belongings in their secured rooms at no cost and make arrangements to retrieve them at a later date. 

“The intent behind having people move out quickly is that we are at the beginning of the curve and with many on Spring Break, we thought it would be easier to have a sense of urgency to the move. However, that came across stronger and firmer than intended, for which we apologize,” the second email read. “To be clear, nothing will be removed from your room and your belongings will not be donated to a charity.”

More than 200 colleges and universities across the country and many in Iowa, including Iowa State, University of Iowa, Simpson College, Grinnell College, Clarke University and Coe College, have moved instruction online for the remainder of spring 2020. Many have also closed campus facilities, including residence halls, although most have provided options for students to stay if necessary. UNI students without permanent residences or who are unable to return to their permanent address due to a health threat, as well as international students, may apply to remain in a centralized on-campus location. 

And the move-out process is just step one. Students and professors will now face the challenges of navigating online classes and adjusting course requirements, something which Heggen said makes him nervous.

“I think we could’ve stayed here if we would’ve just set up some rules to make sure everyone stayed sanitary and safe,” he said. 

But he said he, along with Vance and the thousands of students nationwide who are in the same boat, has come to the final realization:

It is what it is.