Rough conditions for students in ‘bare bones’ U of M quarantine housing 

Strikes over safety continue at university

By: - September 11, 2020 2:27 pm

The University of Michigan reopened for in-person learning for the fall 2020 semester during the COVID-19 pandemic. | Susan J. Demas

Matt Lujan, a University of Michigan senior, had only one hour to pack up everything he may need for two weeks before moving into the university isolation housing after testing positive for COVID-19.

But upon arrival, he quickly found out that the university didn’t provide students with very much during this stressful time.

The university offers all students in quarantine housing three meals for $20 per day. But Lujan said that price would quickly add up during his two-week stay and wasn’t worth it to him, so he has had friends drop off groceries to his door.

Students on social media are saying that the provided meals come cold, but microwaves aren’t available in the units and U of M does not provide any oven-safe dishware.

Lujan said there wasn’t much provided in terms of personal hygiene, either, despite the pandemic. The university provided one roll of toilet paper, one bar of soap and a travel size bar of shampoo.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have one of my best friends drop off a few more things that I needed. … But for someone who doesn’t have that privilege of having someone come in and help them out, I can definitely see why this would be less than comfortable. It’s very, very bare bones when it comes to what was provided,” Lujan said. 

In the last 14 days, 26 students and 16 non-students have tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Friday, the university has 16 students in isolation after testing positive and 49 students in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 and awaiting results. Nearly 11% of the university’s quarantine and isolation housing is at capacity. 

Kim Broekhuizen, a university spokesperson, said the university is doing their “best to make students comfortable during their stay” and that students aren’t required to stay in the on-campus quarantine housing. 

“Students who need to quarantine or isolate are not required to do so in the university’s designated housing. Some choose to go home; some choose hotels. Whichever they choose, they are free to travel there on their own,” Broekhuizen said. 

She also said “students are encouraged to bring any other items that will make them feel more at home” and that microwaves will be added to each unit beginning Friday.

However, Lujan said the university should be doing more to keep students and staff safe. 

“I don’t want to say they’re doing the bare minimum, but at the same time, it just feels like a major research institution that’s had over five months to prepare for reopening and taking all these precautions to make sure the student body is safe, really has not, you know, done that,” Lujan said. 

The university has been under fire for its response to the pandemic, and students and employees are saying that an institution as established and well-funded as the University of Michigan should be able to do more testing and put in place more rigorous safety protocols.

“University of Michigan, a very well funded research institution, doesn’t have regular testing for students,” said Aleija Rodriguez, a residents’ advisor (RA) for on-campus housing at U of M. “Students were technically required to have a negative test result to come on campus, but there were students who arrived and hadn’t had the test results back, so who knows, maybe they tested positive, but they didn’t know. 

“They could have been contributing to the spread. Without that widespread testing, you can’t know. For me, that’s one of the biggest things where the university really dropped the ball and needs to do a lot better.”

On Wednesday, the RAs began a strike after getting denied their list of demands denied by the university.

Residential Staff, commonly referred to as ResStaff, called on the university for regular testing for staff, sufficient personal protective equipment, better enforcement of social distancing and face coverings, more communication and transparency with ResStaff and the public, hazard pay and a formal statement of no retaliation from Housing Administration should a ResStaff Union be formed.

“This was not an easy or hastily made decision. We recognize the impact that a ResStaff strike will have on our residents, and it was our biggest reason for not striking during move-in,” ResStaff members wrote in a statement. “However, we have reached a breaking point. … It is only by leveraging our power and our unity that we can make the dorms and this campus a safer place for students and staff.”

Rodriguez is joining the other RAs in the strike, but he is doing so from the quarantine housing while he awaits his test results. 

Over Labor Day weekend, members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), a labor union that represents University of Michigan graduate student instructors (GSI) and graduate student staff assistants, approved their own four-day strike until the university issues an offer that meets the group’s demands.

The university did make an offer Wednesday, but the deal was rejected by the GEO union saying that it did not sufficiently meet their demands. 

Additionally, dining hall student employees planned a walk-out for Friday evening and are demanding their own “safer, better working conditions.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.