Georgetown University students are petitioning the university to accommodate international students who need on-campus housing during winter break.
The petition, which has been signed by 54 students, urges the university to allow international students to remain in on-campus residence halls for winter break given pandemic-induced housing insecurity between Dec. 18, 2021, and Jan. 11, 2022. The university typically shuts down residence halls during winter break, barring students from returning to their dorms until the beginning of spring semester.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created travel and safety barriers that prevent international students from returning to their permanent residences, according to the petition.
“This year has proven to be difficult for all of us. For international students, however, particular challenges remain, of which winter housing insecurities create the most burden and stress. Many of us are unable to return home this winter as the quarantine time simply exceeds our break, not to mention the difficulty in securing international flights and the continuous risk of being exposed to the virus,” the petition reads.
Yichu Huang (SFS ’23), an international student who co-authored the petition, said students felt compelled to write the petition after the office of residential living gave unclear information.
“The emails that I received and some of the emails that my friends received from residential living had different wordings,” Huang said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “We were very confused about what the school was trying to say and I think that residential living was equally confused as well. I think it was just a few staff members having incomplete information and trying to respond to us.”
According to an email to international students obtained by The Hoya, despite the Office of Residential Living’s pressure on higher university administrators, the university does not have a plan to house international students during winter break.
“Unfortunately, even with our department’s added pressure on senior leadership, we still do not have any direction on whether campus housing options will be available to some students during winter break,” the Oct. 28 email reads.
This year, international students may experience high travel costs and stringent quarantine requirements, according to Andrea Ho (SFS ’24), who signed the petition.
“International students face unique challenges compared to domestic students as not all of them can return home due to factors such as high costs of travel and quarantine, complicated quarantine procedures in our home countries, and the general difficulty of procuring international flights,” Ho wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This creates a lot of stress on international students to find housing over the winter break, especially nearing finals seasons.”
The university should not expect international students to find short-term housing options for winter break, according to Huang.
“Finding short leases in D.C. is quite hard, and even though there is the option of Airbnb, I think that with COVID being around it isn’t the safest choice,” Huang said. “It also isn’t affordable, as the price range differs a lot. There’s also a lot of transactional and organizational costs, which results in logistical difficulties.”
According to a university spokesperson, administrators are meeting with students in the coming days to discuss options for international students.
“We understand the concern around winter housing and have a meeting scheduled with student leaders this week to discuss the issue further with them,” the university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We hope to communicate with all on-campus students as soon as we’re able.”
On Nov. 8, the United States lifted international travel bans put in place in February and March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic; travelers can now enter the United States with proof of full vaccination. However, other countries still have precautions and mandatory quarantines in place. For instance, as of Nov. 8, China requires all travelers to quarantine for 14 days upon entering the country.
Additionally, many international students are likely to face difficulties securing housing over the winter break, according to Kelly He (MSB ’23), who conducted a survey of approximately 50 international students. He found that 84% of participants reported a desire to stay in their on-campus residence during winter break.
Ho said she hopes the petition will raise awareness for issues international students face on campus.
“I really hope the administration can look into this matter and assist international students even if it decides to shut campus down,” Ho wrote. “Many international students have worked so hard for an opportunity to study in the US and it’s awful when they’re neglected by the administration in crucial decisions that involve them.”
Huang said she would like to see a response from the university about housing for international students.
“My genuine hope is that they would give us a clear response, whether that be a yes or no. I would want a definite answer, and that is the most important thing I am looking for,” Huang said. “Vague wording at this time of year would be very frustrating.”