Graphic & Thumbnail by Emma Chiu

In late August, when Northwestern was still expecting to invite first- and second-year students back to campus, Weinberg first-year Laura Solano-Flórez decided to stay home for fall quarter. An international student from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Solano-Flórez cancelled her housing contract for the year due to her country’s tight coronavirus travel restrictions. Now that these restrictions have loosened and first- and second-years have been invited back to campus for winter quarter, Solano-Flórez has reapplied for a new housing contract.

“I am kind of getting stir-crazy at home, so it would be worth it to have a new scene,” Solano-Flórez said. “I think it would help my academics as well because I feel like at home it’s not the same.”

According to Mark D’Arienzo, the Senior Associate Director of Residential Services, Solano-Flórez is one of about 400 first-year students, or about 20% of the Class of 2024, who canceled their housing contracts prior to President Morton Schapiro’s Aug. 28 email preventing first- and second-years, besides those granted exceptions, from coming to campus fall quarter.

At the time of Schapiro’s announcement, students with active housing contracts had already received housing assignments. Although many of these students stayed home for fall quarter, their housing assignments now carry over to winter quarter, and they are guaranteed a room in their assigned dorm this January.

Meanwhile, first-years who canceled their contracts prior to the email never received housing assignments and therefore are not guaranteed housing. These students now have the opportunity to enter new winter quarter housing contracts, and D’Arienzo is confident that all students applying for housing will receive it.

“I don’t have any doubts that there will be space,” D’Arienzo said. “Right now, we’re on track to accommodate all the students who applied for winter quarter housing, [so] I believe that everyone who has a sincere interest in returning will be able to find a space on campus.”

However, D’Arienzo added that first-years creating new housing contracts may not receive their preferred dorm, since Northwestern will maintain winter housing assignments “as assigned or selected” in the fall. So, students who kept their contracts will be housed in the dorms they were assigned to, and first-years creating new contracts will be assigned to any spaces that remain.

“If I get Bobb, I won’t go,” joked Weinberg first-year Andie Tipton, who canceled her housing contract in early August and is still deciding if she will reapply.

Even if she receives one of her preferred dorms, Tipton is unsure if she will choose to live on campus. She initially canceled her housing contract due to the danger of contracting the coronavirus, and given Illinois’ rising number of coronavirus cases, she worries the situation will only worsen by January.

“[Last August], I felt like Northwestern would have an outbreak of some sort, so I didn’t want to risk it,” Tipton said. “I figured I would just try to get ahead of everyone and cancel early… Now, I think I’m just going to try to play it by ear and see what happens.”

Like Tipton, Weinberg first-year Savannah Zhou canceled her housing contract in August and is still ambivalent about living on campus in January because of the coronavirus. But, she feels pressured to return given the downsides of staying home.

“I’d be missing out on the social aspect, and a lot of clubs have said they’re going to have in-person things, so I would be missing out on those opportunities as well,” Zhou said. “I’d be missing out on the whole college experience.”

In the coming weeks, Zhou, Solano-Flórez and Tipton all want to see clearer and more frequent communication from Northwestern. Tipton hopes that, if Northwestern decides not to invite students back to campus in January, Schapiro will notify students earlier than he did in the fall.

“I think Northwestern obviously messed up… when they canceled housing a week before move-in,” Tipton said. “It seems like they make these last-minute decisions and are not very good at letting students know what’s going on.”

D’Arienzo doesn’t yet know when Schapiro would communicate any changes in housing plans, but he explained that the university still intends to invite students back to campus for winter quarter, as stated in Schapiro’s Oct. 28 email.

“We’re trying to work within standards to make things as safe as possible,” D’Arienzo said. “We’re still looking at a plan for a full opening. We’re looking at all our residence halls being operational and expecting that students will make decisions to return.”