Allison Pirog and Chloe Liu
Some students may find themselves living in hotel rooms instead of traditional on-campus dormitories and apartments come Fall.
In a June 4 higher education panel, President Robert Brown discussed a possible plan to house Boston University students in hotels. This would make space on campus for students exposed to the coronavirus to isolate.
He said in the panel the process will involve collaboration between many groups.
“I’ve kind of come to believe that this is our version of the Manhattan Project,” Brown said during the panel. “We’re doing it in a distributed way, with hundreds of institutions in Massachusetts and around the country and the world, grappling with exactly this same set of issues.”
BU is working with several area hotels to house healthy students, Brown said. Setting aside enough isolated quarantine facilities on campus is a critical goal, he said, that requires some facilities to vacate that would otherwise be open for normal use.
This plan would be part of the third phase of BU’s reopening plan to reinstate residential life on campus. The school must reserve around 500 beds for the purpose of isolating students, Brown said.
“We’re planning on 5 percent, roughly, within our 10,000 beds,” Brown said. “They have to be rooms for a single person with a private bath.”
BU will need to create more singles with private bathrooms, Brown said, because immunocompromised students already occupied a significant portion of these dorms prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Suzanne Markham-Bagnera, clinical assistant professor in the School of Hospitality Administration, managed a hotel prior to working at BU that had collaborated with universities to provide overflow student housing.
Markham-Bagnera said budget-friendly hotels are usually more willing to provide rooms. Because of lost business during the pandemic, however, she said luxury hotels might also be open to housing students.
“Now that [COVID-19] has hit, luxury hotels have been the hardest-hit properties,” Markham-Bagnera said. “I still don’t necessarily see them [housing students], but it could be a unique piece of business in order to bring back their staff.”
Markham-Bagnera said her hotel had chosen to house only upperclassmen.
“We didn’t have freshmen stay in the hotel,” Markham-Bagnera said. “We had upperclassmen stay in the hotel because we were looking for folks that were a little bit more responsible and we also didn’t want to alter the first-year experience of any freshman.”
If BU does ultimately begin housing students in hotels, Markham-Bagnera said students might be unable to use common areas like lobbies because many have closed.
“One of the things that most hotels right now are doing is eliminating the socialization opportunities that occur in your public spaces,” Markham-Bagnera said. “If you want to see your friends… you’re going to have to go outside the hotel.”
Universities could place resident assistants in the hotels to foster connections among students, Markham-Bagnera added. She said student housing in hotels could play a key role in bringing back the residential experience.
“I’ve said this actually since early March in my predictions that hotels are going to have to be an opportunity for schools returning to residential life,” Markham-Bagnera said. “Finding a variety of properties to partner with is probably going to be your best bet to make sure that you’re adhering to the social distancing guidelines.”
BU Spokesperson Colin Riley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Julia Kotaev, a rising senior in the College of Communication, said if the University plans to move students into hotels, it must adequately plan to cover all bases, including costs of transportation and accessibility.
“I think finances are really going to come to play for students, as in, if you’re going to place us in a hotel in Downtown Boston,” Kotaev said, “will there be a shuttle that goes there? Will you reimburse us for our travel because you have to take us out of our housing and that we have to live in a hotel?”
Talya Havivi, a rising sophomore in the College of General Studies, said she is doubtful that moving students into hotel rooms for an extended period of time will be effective in keeping them physically apart.
“I know my peers. I know people our age, and I know they want to be out with their friends,” Havivi said. “I think that they need to make sure that our students are being taken care of socially.”
Havivi added that the more important question for her is whether returning to campus this Fall is something she wants to do at all.
“I don’t know if I want to return to something that doesn’t resemble what we all knew it was,” Havivi said. “I think for sure there’s going to be an outbreak on campus, but I think whatever means they take to prevent that won’t be as effective as they hope it’ll be.”