Significant numbers of freshmen have temporarily left or are considering moving out of Witte and Sellery residence halls, while those who remain are now halfway through a mandatory two-week quarantine.
As of Monday, only about 1% to 2% of all University of Wisconsin-Madison students had chosen to permanently cancel their housing contracts for prorated refunds. But after the UW-Madison announced the quarantine requirement on Sept. 9, some Witte and Sellery residents chose to temporarily leave campus and return to their homes.
Though there are no official university numbers on how many left, freshman Molly McElligot said that there are now only 12 students in her wing of Sellery Residence Hall — down from the original 36. And, since last week, students including McElligot have begun looking into options to move into off-campus housing instead.
“We’re waiting to see how the rest of this quarantine goes before making any decisions,” McElligot said.
About 20% of Witte and Sellery residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Last week, those who had not yet been tested underwent a required round of tests — which McElligot said in an email felt “straight out of 'E.T.,' test takers were dressed in full PPE and going door to door.” The next round is taking place at a new testing site at the Kohl Center this week.
Another freshman in Sellery, who wished to remain anonymous, canceled their contract and plans to move into an apartment with roommates. They started quarantine without too many worries, thinking it could help them focus on schoolwork or be a fun part of the college experience, but said it quickly became mentally draining.
“At first I was like, ‘This is just part of it, maybe this will be fun. I’ll be able to just work on my schoolwork,’” they said. “But I was just so bored and tired doing my work all day. I wanted that social aspect. College is about making new friends and finding new people.”
Over the past week, people on social media have cited evidence of students congregating in groups inside the residence halls or sneaking out to visit other buildings or buy outside food. Ultimately, however, students say they have not seen too many conduct violations and that most residents are following the rules, although enforcement has not been very effective.
McElligot said students have brought in outside visitors and been in other people’s rooms, especially over the weekend. Last week, she saw people meeting or accepting deliveries from friends through Sellery’s side doors.
And most students also say they have rarely, if ever, have had their IDs checked to confirm residency: “I’m fine with that, obviously. I’m totally cool with that,” the anonymous Sellery resident said. “(But it’s) essentially defeating the purpose of the entire quarantine.”
Students may only leave the building for 30 minutes three times a day for fresh air and food, which is offered as takeout from the Gordon Dining & Event Center. New rules have also been introduced: Students can no longer go to the package pick-up center, and the side doors are now alarmed and banned from use.
In its new, daily Witte and Sellery email newsletter, the university warned students Tuesday that “more drastic action” may be necessary if the quarantine does not reduce cases back to much lower levels. Violations can result in immediate removal from residence halls with no refund and a disciplinary report for potential emergency suspension, messaging that freshman David Barthen said “scared me quite a bit.”
“We thank all of you who are following the rules, but unfortunately, we know some residents are not, and this will have very serious consequences if behaviors do not change,” the update said.
Three hundred students have been reported for violations of housing or general campus COVID-19 policies, university spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said in an email Friday. The cases are investigated by the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, which has placed eight students on emergency suspension, with an additional four under consideration.
Students have also reported seeing people coming into the buildings with outside food or grocery bags. Outside food is allowed, but only using University Housing delivery robots or by delivery to the building, which Barthen described as a smooth experience but one he would not do again, simply for cost reasons.
“The food options aren’t bad,” Barthen said. “I’m pretty happy with the food quality, and it’s about the same amount of food I’d be eating for the same price.”
The first few meals last week were served at tables outside the residence halls, where students stood in lines — some quick, some “excessively long,” one said — for brown paper bags with meals like a muffin and banana for breakfast or sandwich, cookie, chips and an apple for lunch. Last Thursday, the university transitioned to free meals at Gordon, then later started charging $4.99 on WisCards per meal, which includes one entree, one dessert and one fountain drink. Students walk over to Gordon and return within the 30-minute time frame.
Sometimes, the anonymous resident said, it can be frustrating to not even be able to get a cookie and piece of fruit, since both count as desserts. But, ultimately, the flat rate is “a win” for meals that normally would have cost much more, especially fruit or healthier options, McElligot said.
For the most part, students are staying inside and doing schoolwork, often struggling to feel motivated or focused. At the beginning of quarantine, construction at Sellery — which has since been suspended — made it difficult to work.
Others have reported minor issues with internet connections. Barthen, who said he experiences a disruption about once a lecture, rated it an 8 out of 10, while McElligot described it as more “rough.” She often struggles to connect in her room and works in the floor lounge instead.
In the daily newsletter, University Housing includes resources such as virtual events, “10 ways to work out at home” and, on Wednesday morning, a link to Animal Planet’s online puppy show. McGlone said in the email Friday that the university is also working on a plan to allow students to go outside for exercise and fresh air.
“Housing staff are working hard to balance new health guidelines with providing support to residents,” McGlone said. “The staff can be a great resource, especially during this unique year, including staff in our Hall Desk, Residence Life, and Facilities areas. We continue working to get the word out to residents about virtual events and programs around campus.”
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!