Forced to leave campus, UWRF students return to pack up belongings

Posted May 15, 2020

Students at UW-River Falls have removed the rest of their belongings from on-campus housing. More than 2,000 students were asked to leave the residence halls in March, as classes moved to alternative delivery methods due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

About 2,500 students live on campus during the school year. On March 19, university officials asked students to leave campus if they could, taking only essential belongings and to remain home after spring break. According to Karla Thoennes, director or Residence Life, it was very difficult to tell students to leave campus, but in the end the safety of the students and staff was the highest priority.

Until recently two residence halls remained open for about 40 students. Two resident assistants, undergraduate student staff members whose job it was to help residence hall occupants, remained responsible for the students after they all moved from across campus into Johnson and Hathorn halls.

Thoennes said that in some cases students had no other place to go.

“International students, for the most part, fit in that category,” Thoennes said. “However, several international students have now been able to get flights to their home countries and have departed campus to go home.”

Thoennes said other students stayed because they have elderly parents and didn’t want to risk their health. Some students didn’t have a good relationship with their families and had nowhere else to go.

While on campus the remaining students continued to use their meal plans at Dining Services in the University Center. Those who moved home were able to cancel their spring semester housing and dining contracts and received refunds for the prorated charges from the end of spring break through the end of spring semester. As a result, according to Chancellor Dean Van Galen, UWRF incurred a $3.6 million loss in housing and dining refunds.

Sophomore KayLee Lokker was a resident assistant in the Jesse H. Ames Suites. She received notice in early March that the university was taking an extended spring break, and she should take all essential belongings home with her. Ames and South Forks Suites residents were required by the university to move all of their belongings out over the course of two weekends.

“Emotionally, I don’t even know where to begin. In the span of less than a month I went from being at school, to having an extended spring break with plans to return after, to not returning at all and having to pack up everything and saying goodbye to the rest of my sophomore year,” said Lokker. “It was overwhelming because it all happened so fast and no one knew what was fully going on.”

Lokker said the university handled the situation well, noting that it was clear student safety was the top priority of the university. She did feel that the amount of information coming in was somewhat overwhelming.

“It would have been better to keep emails, explanations, and instructions short and simple. As time went on it did get better,” said Lokker.

According to Thoennes, volunteers made more than 1,600 phone calls to students who still needed to collect their things. Thoennes said the situation was challenging for all involved.

“I feel bad about the general impact that this might have had on students, saying ‘You need to take all your things and go.’ That’s not who we are in general, but in this case, this is the best thing we could do,” she said.

Thoennes said the university chose to wait until May when it was safe for residence hall students to return to campus and collect all their belongings. Residence life scheduled appointments across the first two weeks of May to maintain safety precautions.