UC Berkeley winter break residence hall closures prompt student concerns

Photo of Blackwell Hall
Karen Chow/File
While UC Berkeley experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases after winter break, campus saw a reduction in cases when students returned from spring break. This reduction is likely due changes in student behaviors when following the necessary protocols to reduce the spread.

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UC Berkeley advised students to follow winter break safety protocols and campus travel guidelines in a campuswide email Monday, but students expressed concern over the decision to close most residence halls during the break.

With most students planning to travel home after finals and return to campus in January, the email urged students to ensure their travel plans follow the regional stay-at-home order, prohibiting gatherings of any size. In addition, it emphasized campus safety protocols, including frequent mandatory testing for students living on campus, both before their departure for the break and after their return in the spring.

The email also announced the closure of all campus residence halls, excluding Maximino Martinez Commons, a decision that many students, such as campus senior Cameron Ishee, disagree with. Campus apartments, however, will remain open, according to the email.

“It’s very counterintuitive of the university,” Ishee said. “It should be on the university to provide the option of letting students stay, especially in a pandemic where some students don’t want to go home to a situation where they might be exposed or don’t want to travel and expose their family.”

The email advises students to contact Cal Housing if they need a place to stay over the winter break on an “emergency basis.” According to Ishee, however, any student’s situation during the pandemic should be eligible for this emergency housing option.

Campus graduate student Xander Lenc expressed a similar concern in a Twitter message, saying students should not have to apply for individual emergency exceptions when the COVID-19 pandemic is an “emergency itself.”

“I am simply concerned about the paradox that undergrads have been put in,” Lenc said in the Twitter message. “I recognize that giving guaranteed dorm contracts over the break would require staffing changes, and I truly do sympathize with the overworked university dorm staff, but this is something that university administrators have had plenty of time to anticipate and plan for at this point.”

Campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff said in an email the decision to close most residence halls resulted from the majority of students living on campus informing campus of their plans to travel home for winter break.

According to Ratliff, campus already has plans to accommodate the small number of students who said they needed housing during winter break. He added that those in “quarantine/isolation” units will be provided with meals from Cal Dining.

“We wanted to let students know about the recent stay at home orders and help them make informed travel plans,” Ratliff said in the email. “But I think it’s worth noting that we aren’t shutting down operations completely.”

Contact Annika Kim Constantino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaKimC.