Due to fears about the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, first-year freshmen will not be required to live on campus this fall, and for students who choose to, roommates will be prohibited.

Wayne Sullivan, the director of Residence Life and Student Housing, said the choice was made to prioritize students' health.

"We truly believe in the positive impact of the campus living experience, and it's disappointing that fewer students will be able to have that experience this year, but we must work to provide a safer environment for all our students," Sullivan said.



Shortly after President Garnett Stokes released her "Bring Back the Pack" initiative, which provides some information on how the fall 2020 semester will operate, University of New Mexico's student housing division sent out an email to dorm residents calling for a re-selection of dorm rooms.

According to the email, priority re-registration will be given to first-year students and those who completed Priority Renewal Registration in February.

Initially, Residence Life said that dorm prices may be increased to account for all rooms housing only one student. However, an updated email has since clarified that the University reassessed taking such a punitive measure and now plans to keep pricing the same.

The cost and nature of meal plans will remain the same for now, with UNM Food stating that they will be taking precautionary measures to ensure sanitary and healthy meals for students.

Consistent with previous announcements in the email, Residence Life warned students that the plans could change due to the fluidity of the housing situation during the ever-evolving pandemic.

"In the event of a change in the public health outlook during the fall, it is possible that students may have to leave student housing part-way through the semester following the contingency plan that we will share with you in July," the email read.

The warning came in preparation for a possible second wave of COVID-19 anticipated later this year.

Sarah Scott, communication and outreach specialist for UNM Institutional Support Services, said students who are unable to find housing once spaces fill up will be referred to other resources.

"We will be including referral information for the new UNM Off-Campus Housing website that the Student Activities Center has launched," she said.

While the single occupancy initiative itself ensures student separation within the dorms, Scott said dorm bathroom use will be controlled as well, since restrooms can be reasonably considered a breeding ground for infectious germs.

"UNM plans to follow CDC guidelines for cleaning communal restrooms in traditional residence hall and suite style housing," Scott said. "It is important for students to maintain appropriate distancing when using facilities, so we are exploring options and guidelines that will help."

Mariposa Childson, a junior majoring in psychology and political science and current UNM housing resident, said she lauded the new rule.

"It's nearly impossible to maintain a healthy separation from your roommates when you share a kitchen and bathroom — especially if classes resume, it would be very difficult to make sure everyone in the dorm was healthy," she said. "I think everyone wants to be back on campus in the fall, but we knew some changes had to be made."

Jonah Lopez, a senior majoring in pure mathematics, is one of the few students eligible to currently live on campus since the University's closure in March. He said he's not surprised by the measures UNM Residence Life is taking to minimize virus exposure, and he believes the initiative to be an effective proposal.

"Ultimately, I think preventing exposure is up to the student, but UNM Housing's newly proposed measure will be effective in helping stop the spread," he said.

Gabriela O'Keefe, a junior majoring in communications, said she believes Residence Life's new rule is an effective start to minimizing COVID-19 exposure but isn't enough to ensure complete student safety.

"Realistically, I think if one person on the floor gets COVID-19, it could very, very easily be spread to the entire floor," she said.

Though O'Keefe will be living off-campus in the fall semester, she has spent the past two years at UNM living in Hokona Hall, which she credits with shaping her social life as a freshman.

"Having a roommate allows you to explore UNM without fear," she said. "This year, no matter what we do with housing, it's going to be hard on our freshmen."

O'Keefe concluded that in such unprecedented times, there is no clear agreement on how best to reduce the chance of an outbreak on campus, so she said she commends UNM's effort as a crucial first step.

The new housing requirements are only set for the fall 2020 semester, because planning for the spring semester will develop as the global health situation continues to change. Scott said she encourages students to be on the lookout for more information throughout the summer.

"There will be several initiatives set in place for fall to help address the health and wellbeing of our students," Scott said. "We plan to send all residents a detailed set of information in July that will help residents be prepared."

Housing selection will occur from June 15-21. Students will be notified of their finalized housing assignment by June 25.

Beatrice Nisoli is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli