When the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees announced on March 12 the university’s extended spring break and switch to online classes, an approximate 4,100 students living in university housing were displaced from their Oxford residences. Over 94% of these students returned to their family homes or found another place to stay for the remainder of the semester, but according to John Yaun, university director of student housing, roughly 230 students are riding out the coronavirus pandemic and Oxford’s resulting stay-at-home order in on-campus housing.
“My country has a travel ban imposed,” Glenn Aranha, a junior banking and finance major from the United Arab Emirates, said. “They’re not letting anyone in, even if they’re residents of the country, so that’s the reason I cannot travel back home immediately.”
Even if there were no travel ban, though, Aranha said he would struggle to travel home to his family and participate in online classes because of the nine-hour time difference between Oxford and Dubai.
Yaun said this was an element that student housing considered when reviewing student applications for alternative housing.
“Our goal was to be as flexible as possible in working with students throughout this process so that students could continue their courses at UM,” he said.
In order to remain on campus, Yaun said applications had to show whether a student was housing insecure, if the student did not have internet in order to be able to continue online courses, if the student were unable to travel home or another extenuating circumstance.
When asked whether there were any instances where a student did not meet requirements or had to be turned away from university housing, Yaun did not answer.
For Aranha, who works as a community assistant (CA) in Luckyday Residential College, the process of getting approved to stay on campus was “rather easy.”
“They just let me stay in my own room. I had to submit an alternative housing request, a short three or four sentences on why I needed to stay on campus, and I was approved.”
Luckyday is one of six housing communities that will stay open through the end of the semester. The other options are Residential College South, Campus Walk, Northgate, Residence Hall 2 and Residence Hall 3.
Before the university’s closure of all campus housing except for those six buildings, Yaun said about 138 community assistants (CAs) worked across the campus. Now, there are only 25.
“Housing handled it pretty well,” Aranha said. “They just said we didn’t have to go back to work, but if we wanted to, we could. They just left the choice to us, and they’ve given us no repercussions, like they just said we’d still have a job whenever we decided to come back.”
While he continues to live on campus, Aranha said he is also maintaining his work as a CA and getting paid as usual.
Yaun said that throughout the university-wide shift caused by the pandemic, housing has kept with the university’s highest priority of maintaining the safety and wellbeing of students. Housing is also working closely with the Student Health Center and other campus partners to provide health & safety messaging and strategies for students living on campus.
In terms of safety and health precautions, housing will be “disinfecting surfaces, providing wipes and hand sanitizers at each front desk, providing important safety information from the CDC, encouraging social distancing through assignments, and cancelling all programs and activities.”
According to Aranha, students on campus seem to be abiding well to social distancing guidelines. He hasn’t seen more than a few scattered people in days.
“I would call it a ghost town.”