By Hannah Joseph and Fiona Hernandez
As the pandemic continues on, students at the University at Albany have had to deal with another semester of COVID-19 testing, mask-wearing, and for some who have possibly been exposed to the virus, quarantine/isolation, which has not come without pushback from students who experience it.
These safety precautions were put in place to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 as well as manage those who have tested positive on campus. As students complete the 10 day Isolation/Quarantine process, many have spoken out about the allegedly horrific experiences that they encountered while in quarantine through an anonymous survey.
An investigation was conducted by the Student Association’s Off-Campus Senators on the conditions and well-being of those in isolation. After completing the isolation as required by the University after students either tested positive themselves or came into close contact with someone who has been confirmed positive, students were asked to describe their experiences.
When asked to rate their overall experience on a scale of 1-5 (a score of one being the conditions and wellbeing of the students was “Unsafe/Unhealthy” and a score of five being “Students were treated with utmost care”) 63 percent of students rated their overall isolation period as a score of two or below. 29.6 percent reported their experience to be a score of three, 7.4 percent reported a score of four and zero percent reported having the utmost care for their overall wellbeing.
The survey conducted anonymously by the SA Senate asked more specific questions of students, about subjects like quality of food, staff and resources given by the University.
Many testified about the low quality of the food provided, stating it was not worth the $13 a day. (those who didn’t have a meal plan were charged $33/day).
Students also reported that they received cold, soggy and overall “unappetizing” food, oftentimes arriving hours after promised.
One student wrote that her dietary restrictions were not respected. “I asked for no pork and they gave me bacon and sausage,” she said.
Another student also said that she only liked a third of what they gave her. “I am a vegetarian and one night it took them three hours to figure out my meal because they didn’t know what to get me,” she explained.
Others informed us that they were only given two water bottles per day, which they had to ration. One student mentioned that, when she asked for more water, she was instructed to drink water from the sink.
Many students report not receiving food at all some days.
“They forgot our food one day... we tried calling someone but we ended up asking the cleaning guy,” one student said. “The food happened to be moldy one time, every time I ate I felt like throwing up.”
Another student said, “I had to complain to multiple people just to get food delivered and when it was it was disgusting.”
In a viral TikTok that gained over 130.7 thousand views, UAlbany TikTok user Erin Putnam reports having not been fed for over 48 hours.
Video Credit: @erinkputnam via TikTok
When interviewed by the ASP, Putnam reports that she was put in isolation after someone in her pooled testing group tested positive for COVID 19. She reports that after being put into isolation, she did not receive meals or water for 48 hours despite multiple calls to Residential Life Staff members. “I would call someone and they would tell me they would bring it up and they would never bring it up,” she said.
This forced her to order DoorDash meals, which, despite being ordered at 1 p.m., were not delivered to the room until 9 p.m. by the staff who received it.
To her confusion, her suitemate was given food and water on time. She also reports when she was finally given meals, she was served meat despite asking for vegetarian options.
After her TikTok went viral, this student was contacted by the University who denied the allegations she made stating that their own records showed she was given food each day. Despite her experience, she maintained a positive attitude, “They're doing as much as they can,” she said, but the Iso/Quar situation “was kind of a hot mess.”
Overall a majority of those who participated in the survey reported being unsatisfied with the quality of food; that is, if they reported receiving food at all.
In addition to some students reporting not receiving food, every single participant in the survey reported not receiving any first aid material, feminine hygiene products or cleaning supplies.
The students were thankful that the university provided toilet paper but that's where their generosity ended. One student writes, “Toilet paper. That was all. No soap. No thermometer. You must bring everything yourself otherwise you may be in tough luck.”
Another commented on the conditions of the isolation spaces, stating, “No cleaning products, spaces still looked used.”
Despite the multitude of mental health services the university boasts, many students reported underwhelming support in regards to mental health.
When asked if the university was checking in on the mental health and wellbeing of the students, many wrote they were not contacted at all, or only contacted once or twice during the 10 day isolation period. One confessed, “they did but it was a waste of time” implying that the University called only so that they could say they called.
Many students have also complained about the lack of communication and planning that went into this.
Survey participants report isolations zones are understaffed and there is an overall lack of communication on the university’s part. One student explained, “when there's more students to deal with in isolation, staff communication worsens. Communication with staff was very delayed, causing lots of confusion.”
Another student said she “was in the dark with a lot of things… and they were not giving lots of answers.”
“I had to ask a whole bunch of people to get simple answers,” she said.
The complaints about communication between staff continued: “its 50/50 the duty desk staff were very helpful and nice but the emergency management staff was impossible to deal with,” one student wrote.
Overall, students noted the lack of communication between campus staff which resulted in multiple failures down the line in regards to student care and wellbeing.
In addition, the university representative addressed the allegations that many students did not receive adequate food and water. “There are additional bottles of water available to students who request it, and any student who has an issue with their meal should report it ASAP to Res Life. When we are made aware of issues, we address them as quickly as possible.”
The University insists that they have and will address any claims made as soon as they are made aware.
On Feb. 24, the SA Senate passed a resolution regarding the Iso/quar housing on campus. In this resolution the senate addressed the allegations made by students about their Iso/quar experience.
The Resolution reads, “The Student Association Senate vehemently disagrees with the University at Albany’s current practice of quarantining students and urges the University at Albany administration to immediately address these issues.”
In suggesting a plan of action going forward, the resolution further read “The University at Albany administration should incorporate the Student Association Senate in regards to future decisions impacting students’ daily well-being lives, both on and off campus.”
Michael Christakis, Vice President for Student Affairs, stated in an email to Senate Chairman Bryan Ramsaran regarding the resolution passed that, “Adapting to the extraordinary changes this pandemic has brought to campus life has required cooperation, patience and empathy – and I am deeply grateful for and inspired by the way the vast majority of UAlbany students have pulled together to help keep each other healthy and safe”
Christakis continued: “As we navigate what we hope will be the final chapter of this pandemic together, it is essential that we continue to communicate clearly, timely and accurately with each other regarding student concerns so that they may be addressed as quickly as possible.”
He then went on to deny allegations made by students stating, “the resolution seems to convey a misunderstanding of the iso/quar process and to rely on a startling anecdote that is not true. Specifically, the section of the resolution that suggests a student did not receive food for more than 48 hours simply did not occur based on the records available to the University – despite what was widely reported on social media. If such an instance had occurred, however, a student could have called the emergency numbers provided to students in iso/quar housing and received a prompt response.”
VP Christakis did go on to state the University would be increasing the number of residential life staff to support iso/quar housing. Furthermore, he informed that the University Student Support Team has been averaging about 265 daily wellness check in calls to students.
“It is absolutely essential that students answer the phone when the SST calls and that they treat their peers with respect,” Christakis said. “I hope we can count SA an ally in encouraging students in iso/quar housing to be sure they answer those calls and, more broadly, to continue to comply with the University’s iso/quar regulations.”
Disappointed at the lackluster response on the University's part, one SA senator who helped co-sponsor the Iso/Quar resolution expressed his frustration with the University, “It is appalling that the University at Albany's administration is not taking student concerns seriously. Administration is denying student concerns, including where students have claimed to not have received food for days at a time, and on top of that only two water bottles a day. These are basic human rights and should be of the utmost concern for the University and its budget, as every student at the University deserves it… It is well past time that the University takes the concerns of students seriously…”
Additional Comments from students include:
“It was so cold in the apartment rooms that my random roommate and I wore winter jackets and two pairs of pants to bed every night. we called reslife so many times to let them know something was wrong (none of my other friends in quarantine had that issue) and they refused to send anyone to check it out.”
“It's bizarre that I had to reach out to the university first to find out any useful situation. I would have not been able to leave when my quarantine ended if I had not bothered basically every department asking how I can leave. The university didn’t tell me any documents I had to upload, I found that out on my own. I was not contacted until I complained to multiple people. I also had to switch rooms after having to complain multiple times about no hot water in the shower.”
“ I had 4 mental breakdowns while quarantining at liberty terrace. I called to tell them that I felt like I was having a panic attack and they hung up on me. Which they tend to do a lot when they don't want to deal with you.”
“A custodian came into my room and took all my groceries out my fridge and my air fryer. The only reason I was reimbursed for my groceries is because I called UPD. When my air fryer was returned to me and it was not working anymore, which should have not happened because it was brand new when I brought it to Liberty Terrace. I still have not been reimbursed for my air fryer which I need to be because I paid a lot of money for it.”
“I understand that there may be energy conservation concerns since Liberty is not always at full capacity, however, the rooms are FREEZING. Even under covers, it was miserable. I'm not sure if the temperatures were geared towards not being habitable for airborne viruses but for someone who has never even tested negative, it was extreme for me to be in those temperatures. The thermostat in the South wing was reading in the high 60s.”
“Res Life was very disorganized and unhelpful. They also tried to move someone in my room who had not tested positive after I did test positive, possibly exposing them.”