Question: The University of Hawaii has informed students that it is limiting access to student housing next year due to social distancing needed for COVID-19. I understand that. However, why are student-athletes and freshmen listed as having high priority for housing when there is no word whether games/sporting events will even happen, and when the majority of 100-level freshman classes are likely to be held online? Why not give priority first to upperclassmen who are off-island renewal students, then lower classmen who are off-island renewal students, then upper classmen who are on-island renewal students, then lower classmen who are on-island students and then finally freshmen? — Distressed UH-Manoa student
Answer: Kokua Line has received numerous complaints from UH-Manoa students who lived in campus dorms last spring and had signed up to do so again this fall — what you refer to as renewal students. UH has informed them that the pandemic has upended their housing selections. As you mentioned, there are fewer beds available and incoming freshmen, student-athletes and students with disabilities are getting priority.
We followed up with UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl for more information about priorities in this new and temporary system. Here’s his response:
“First and foremost, limiting student housing is the last thing the university wanted to do. We are in an unprecedented situation that demands difficult decisions as we have lost about over 30% of our capacity with the required social distancing.
“The top priority is for non-Oahu-based freshmen because the first year of college is a critical time of transition from home to college life. The support found in a residential community is critical for freshmen and can determine whether a student continues with their education and ultimately graduates. Many of the freshman-level courses will include in-person instruction by design to enhance the first-year experience.
“Athletes account for a small percentage of the overall student resident population and the expectation is that there will be fall and spring sports in the 2020-2021 academic year.
“Priority is then being given to neighbor island students and then renewals will be honored in the order that they were confirmed in the lottery process.
“It was determined by campus leadership that this was the best and fairest process given the circumstances. We look forward to a return of normal operations and apologize to any student negatively affected by these necessary steps.”
In an email notifying renewal students that housing selections made last spring would be scrapped, UH said it had to significantly reduce the number of assignable bed spaces in its residence halls for Fall 2020 due to the pandemic. Physical-distancing standards generally call for people to remain at least 6 feet apart.
The notice also said UH had adopted new priorities for dorm and room assignments during the crisis, as you and Meisenzahl described.
Renewal residents would be assigned to the Hale Wainani and Hale Anuenue dorms as space permits, it said. Students are expected to be notified of their new housing assignments this week.
Anyone left without a room will be wait-listed but should not lose all hope. Movement is expected as course locations, which are expected to be released in mid-July, show whether a particular class will be taught online or in person.
It wasn’t feasible to wait for that information before making housing assignments, Meisenzahl said.
Some students who are assigned dorm rooms may opt to give them up — freeing them up for a renewal student like you — depending on their course locations and other circumstances. “As the summer wears on and schedules become more clear, we’re hoping that the overflow of students needing housing won’t be that bad,” Meisenzahl said.
Still, anyone who ends up on the waitlist this week should seek off-campus housing alternatives, he said.
In your email to Kokua Line, you said that you are an upper-division student who will be taking many demanding classes and working on campus, and you expect to be there from morning to night. You would prefer to live on campus, as you have in past years.
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