Heading into Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall shortly after move-in, Isabel Janovsky (COL ’23) stepped into the building only to immediately walk back out. The long line of people, some of whom were maskless, seemed like a health risk.
“It’s too many people. I’m from New York City; I’m used to seeing a lot of people, but to have to wait in line for that long and then to be around people who are not wearing masks is overwhelming,” Janovsky said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
Because of these logistical and safety concerns, Janovsky has returned to Leo’s only a couple times in the past weeks. She is still on a meal plan but has instead opted to buy her own groceries and cook in her dorm’s common room kitchen.
Janovsky’s experience represents one of the many challenges students are facing during the transition back to campus for the fall 2021 semester. As the Georgetown University community shifts back to a residential college experience, the university has grappled with logistical challenges ranging from COVID-19 protocol concerns to unresolved facilities issues.
After months of primarily connecting to the community through a screen, some students say the return to the Hilltop has not measured up to their expectations.
COVID-19 Protocol Challenges
In July 2021, the university announced a list of COVID-19 policies meant to facilitate a safe return to in-person instruction that preserved a sense of normalcy. Despite these policies, sporadic positive COVID-19 cases continue to disrupt the Georgetown community.
Janovsky told The Hoya she is dissatisfied with the current implementation of university safety protocols, especially in Leo’s.
“I think one of the least safe places on campus is Leo’s, and part of that I think comes from requiring everyone to be on the meal plan, because then everyone has to be there,” Janovsky said.
The university has implemented various safety measures at the dining hall to mitigate this risk, according to a university spokesperson, including adding hand sanitizer stations and single-use plateware and silverware, eliminating self-service and increasing cleaning and sanitation protocols.
“The safety of the Georgetown community is our top priority,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “As was in place throughout the pandemic, dining services are set up with public health in mind, with enhanced health and sanitation standards.”
The lack of flexible modes of instruction is another source of COVID-19 protocol confusion.
Currently, administration guidelines only require that classes are in person unless otherwise approved by the university. University policy on absences due to COVID-19-related isolation or quarantine are handled the same way as students missing class for any illness. Faculty members are prepared, but not required, to provide alternate course materials to absent students, according to a university spokesperson.
“Faculty are not required to provide synchronous remote learning options for students missing class because of illness,” the spokesperson wrote. “Students must contact both their academic advisor, program director or course director, and each individual faculty member when placed in isolation or quarantine to determine next steps for each particular course.”
Ewan Wilson (SFS ’25), who was quarantining during the first three days of classes, fell behind in some of his five courses because he could not attend all of his courses remotely.
“I was able to go to the two online ones, and then a professor also did some virtual office hours with me to catch me up on what I missed,” Wilson said in an interview with The Hoya. “But with the others, I couldn’t because there were no virtual options. I fell quite behind in those classes.”
Since different classes have different needs, a one-size-fits-all policy for hybrid options is not practical, according to Ellen Carlin, an assistant research professor at Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Science and Security. However, Carlin said the university can place more responsibility on faculty to reach out and provide academic resources to quarantining students.
“I do think that there’s an expectation that the faculty figure out a plan, a way to make sure that any COVID-positive students don’t get behind,” Carlin said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
Despite these issues, Carlin said the university has made an admirable effort and generally succeeded in implementing COVID-19 protocols this fall semester.
“It’s virtually unprecedented. Universities have never had to deal with something like this, and I think over the last year they’ve really put a lot of thought into what needs to happen to keep staff and students safe,” Carlin said.
Students have also highlighted displeasure with dining services — not just in terms of COVID-19 concerns but also regarding the inconvenience associated with long wait times.
According to Georgetown University Student Association Chief of Staff Thomas Leonard (COL ’23), one of the main differences between this year and the 2019-20 academic year is juniors and seniors living in on-campus housing are now mandated to be on a meal plan, even when living with a kitchen. In previous years, only first-years and sophomores were required to be on a meal plan, meaning Georgetown’s dining services this year are serving a significantly larger number of students.
Wait times to get food sometimes exceed 30 minutes during busy hours, according to Bella Fassett (SFS ’24).
“The lines are ridiculous but to be expected with everyone being mandated to be on a meal plan now,” Fassett said in an interview with The Hoya. “And it’s too busy. It’s very hard to find a table at peak hours.”
To address these dining service issues, the university says it has installed new GOCard readers in high-traffic locations, such as the buffet at downstairs Leo’s, and added additional support staff, according to a spokesperson for Hoya Hospitality, the dining service on campus.
“We have been taking action daily since the beginning of this semester to address the lines,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
But with few options for on-campus dining, students must either brave the long lines or buy food elsewhere on top of the meal plan’s price, which can cost from $1,614 to $3,560 per semester. Merritt Ann Glass (COL ’23) has opted to cook her own meals in response to these dining service issues.
“I actually haven’t been to Leo’s too much, just because every time I go, the lines are so long that I’ve resorted to just paying even more money to get groceries and cook in my apartment,” Glass said in an interview with The Hoya.
In an Aug. 27 meeting with university administrators regarding dining service issues, GUSA learned that the overcrowding of students is compounded by other pandemic-related factors, according to Leonard.
“Administration said that two of the causes are that there is a supply chain shortage, but also a shortage of workers,” Leonard said.
But the university should not be shocked by this outcome, according to Leonard, who said the university’s disheartening absence of preparation when it comes to dining services relates to other issues on campus as well.
“There is an obvious lack of preparation and implementation of systems that could streamline the dining hall services,” Leonard said.
Worries With Work Orders
Since returning to campus this fall, students have reported unsatisfactory experiences with facilities and residential living, including those published on @georgetown.hotmess, an Instagram account featuring Georgetown facilities in disarray.
Evan Navori (SFS ’23) said there has been a noticeable delay for facilities to fulfill work orders since students returned to campus. As a resident assistant in LXR, Navori is responsible for filing work orders related to facility concerns and student emergencies on his floor. Of the nine work orders he has filed since the beginning of school, ranging from mattresses littering the hallway to floor residents with broken air conditioning and black mold, only four have been responded to and fully resolved, according to Navori.
Due to the delays, important work orders that concern safety hazards have been left unaddressed for weeks. After discovering black mold in the common room, it took nearly three weeks after filing a work order before the issue was dealt with, according to Navori.
“I thought it was like a Jackson Pollock painting. But it was black mold,” Navori said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “I was about four days away from calling D.C. public health and reporting the black mold situation if action would not have been taken by Georgetown.”
Erin DuCharme (COL ’23) shared Navori’s frustration at the university not responding to safety issues in a timely manner after the Office of Residential Living misplaced her loaner key. She went without a key for two days and without hearing from the office, meaning she could not lock her door.
“That obviously leads to a lot of safety issues from people being able to come into my, out of my room, without my knowledge,” DuCharme said in an interview with The Hoya. “I’m disappointed in their lack of organization or lack of communication.”
According to a university spokesperson, the university renovated some residential buildings while most students were away from campus last year. However, the university acknowledges an uptick of additional maintenance issues as students return to campus, the university spokesperson said.
“In part due to the significant rainfall the D.C. area has received over the past six weeks, mildew and mold have persisted in some campus locations,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Georgetown has initiated steps to respond to all current reported cases and prevent mildew and mold moving forward.”
Despite many of the new building renovations, GUSA continues to receive multiple reports of students having to evacuate their rooms because of flooding, leaking roofs and mold, according to Leonard. Upon his return to campus, Leonard himself encountered sewage flooding in his Village B apartment and had to stay in a hotel.
“It’s extremely concerning because you are getting these renovations done and yet these issues are still occurring,” Leonard said.
While students are appreciative of the university’s efforts to reopen campus amid unprecedented challenges, some remain disappointed that the university was not more prepared to welcome them.
“Transitioning to in-person has been tough for many students. I feel like we have all been thrown into the deep end, and I think they could have done a better job,” DuCharme said.