Fall residence closures dash hopes of ‘typical’ experience for students and RAs

Student residences are adjusting to a physically distanced reality this fall, with residence closures affecting first years, upper years and residence advisors alike.

Not only will this affect thousands of incoming first-year students who might lose their opportunities for a traditional freshman experience, but some residence advisors (RAs) who have lost their jobs due to the closures of Totem Park and Place Vanier Residences.

Student Housing and Community Services (SHCS) posted on its website that the first-year residence community will decrease by 3000 students, leaving uncertainty for RAs.

Courtesy UBC Student Housing and Community Services
SHCS websites announced the fall closures of Totem Park and Place Vanier.
SHCS websites announced the fall closures of Totem Park and Place Vanier. Courtesy UBC Student Housing and Community Services

Residence is normally guaranteed for all first-year students who apply before a deadline. The criteria for obtaining a guaranteed spot in residence have changed this year to only include first years who either are in a program which requires them to be on campus, are from a remote community with limited access to technology or possess other compelling circumstances that justify their need to be on campus.

UBC did not provide comment, citing a lack of available information, and did not respond to subsequent emails.

Third-year RA Herbert was one many who lost their jobs due to the residence closures. In March, Herbert, a veteran RA whose name was changed out of concern for getting rehired, was hired to work in a first-year residence for the 2020/21 school year. Usually, RAs are given a contract to sign upon acceptance of their job, but Herbert said he did not receive a contract this year.

He was not informed that he would no longer have a job until June, despite UBC’s announcement in early May that fall semester would be mainly online.

Not only was this a loss of employment, but also a loss of housing. Herbert is now hoping to obtain regular winter housing.

“Unfortunately I won’t be able to [return as an RA] so that's definitely disappointing … And also with online classes, I think there’ll definitely be a lot of lifestyle changes,” he said.

According to Herbert, Orchard Commons seems to be the only first-year residence that will remain open in the fall since it is made up entirely of single-connected rooms. However, the SHCS website says that communal spaces will be closed or will have seating removed, and usual community events, musicals and sports will be cancelled.

There may also be a reduced selection of food items available for the mandatory first-year meal plan and physical distancing protocols will be enforced at the dining hall. As SHCS summarized on its website: “due to the ever-changing dynamics of COVID-19, it is not possible to offer you a ‘typical’ residence experience.”

It is unclear if first-year students will also be placed in upper-year residences in addition to Orchard Commons.

Additionally, students from outside of Canada will not be permitted to complete their two-week government-mandated self-isolation in residence and will instead need to make other arrangements with SHCS for $69 plus tax per day, totalling $966 plus tax for the two weeks — on top of normal rent fees. The other option is to check into a hotel with self-isolation packages for students.

‘Not going to be the same’

Jason Lin, an incoming first-year kinesiology student from Coquitlam, voiced his concerns about the online semester and not being able to live in residence. He explained that he and his peers are no longer planning to stay in UBC residence, in the fall, but are hoping to move in for the second semester if instruction is in person.

“I’ve heard from many people that first year is definitely where you make all your close friends,” he said. … “It’s gonna be different, but it’s still possible to meet people online. We have this Instagram UBC 2024 page where everyone’s getting connected … But it’s not going to be the same.”

Lin still plans to take a full course load but is well aware of the implications of not being able to live in residence. His plans to look into clubs and sports at UBC have halted as well.

“Most of us high schoolers have finished off our year with online schooling, and that wasn’t ideal. So I don’t think many of us are directly looking forward to online school [at UBC], but we’re all still in a way excited to start a new chapter.”

Fourth-year English literature student Antonia Shumka has lived in UBC residence for four years. She moved out of Fraser Hall early in March due to COVID-19 but was originally planning to stay until at least December. She will not be returning to residence in September due to the transition to online learning and for the fear of her safety amidst the pandemic.

Shumka may be able to graduate by December if she takes a full course load in the fall, but is unsure if that will be manageable given the circumstances. She plans to move back into Fraser Hall in January if she does not graduate.

“A lot of [my roommates] decided to move out just because of the [number] of people, for sure,” said Shumka. “I do have people who I know rejected their Fraser Hall offers just simply because of how many people were in them.”