Yale Daily News

On Friday afternoon, Yale University sent undergraduate students who were slated to live in McClellan Hall on Old Campus an email stating that the students will be relocated to the Omni Hotel for “at least the first part of the semester,” as McClellan Hall may be used for COVID-19 isolation housing. Students impacted by the change met the announcement with a mix of understanding and frustration. 

The sudden change — made just five days before the Sept. 1 start of the fall 2021 semester — comes after McClellan Hall was originally intended to be a mixed-college housing offering for upperclassmen who wanted to live on campus with friends in other residential colleges. 

According to Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd, Arnold Hall, which is located at 304 Elm St., was originally intended to serve as the only isolation housing for undergraduates. But in response to early testing data and the unpredictability of the Delta variant, the University decided to increase isolation housing capacity to ensure there will be enough isolation space in case of a spike in positivity rates as students arrive on campus.

“With apologies for the very short notice, I am writing because I will need to relocate you, along with all the other students living in McClellan, to the Omni Hotel for at least the first part of the semester,” the email from Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd read. “The university may need to use McClellan as isolation housing. I hope to be able to offer you your original room later in the semester.”

Boyd told the News that the 49 students who were supposed to be housed in McClellan will get single rooms in the Omni on three designated floors, with priority on friends being placed near each other. The University will pay for the room, but not for incidentals such as room service or dry cleaning.

Boyd explained that they chose to use McClellan Hall as additional isolation housing because it impacted the smallest number of students, making note of the fact that she feels terrible that any students at all are impacted by the change. Boyd is working in close contact with the impacted students to make the situation as “livable” as possible, such as setting up a lounge in the hotel to serve as a common room.

“We completely recognize that this is disruptive and short-notice — I feel terrible that this situation has come to pass,” Boyd told the News. “But out of a list of bad options, this was the one that enabled us to be sure that we could house people if we need more isolation housing as students arrive to campus.”

According to the email sent to the students, while it is possible that the impacted students may be able to move into their McClellan rooms later in the semester, no timeline is set in stone. Boyd explained to the News that the University does not know whether or how long they will need the extra isolation space. She added that the positivity rates will determine how long the extra isolation capacity is needed and thus how long the students will have to stay at the Omni.

During the housing process in the spring 2021 semester, McClellan Hall was advertised to students as part of the solution to the higher-than-normal housing demand — which resulted from the increased number of students who took leaves of absence during the pandemic. The higher demand had created a stressful housing process for many students hoping to live on campus. Students in mixed-college housing who are not housed in McClellan will not have to relocate.

While Boyd apologized for the inconvenience in her most recent email to the impacted students, she wrote that the University made the change now to “minimize disruption once the semester starts.”

Students affected by the move to the Omni Hotel expressed varying reactions. One of them, Laz Vazquez ’23, explained that the change “comes as a surprise” but emphasized that it is a minor inconvenience at worst in comparison to the other sacrifices people have had to make in response to the public health challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“I think that while the decision to move McClellan into a hotel may be frustrating for some, it’s important for all of us to understand that we all need to sacrifice some level of comfort to better the health and wellbeing of our community,” Vazquez wrote in an email.

After taking a leave of absence, Alexis Ball ’24 was placed in mixed-college housing because of her late decision to claim on-campus housing. Overall, Ball explained feeling anxious — after taking time off, she already felt nervous about returning to campus, and the last minute and unorthodox change to her housing arrangements only made her feel more unsettled.

Ball explained that she feels grateful that the University is allowing the students to stay near campus and is paying for a “very nice hotel.” But while she explained that the pros of living in the Omni are having a larger room, her own bathroom and air conditioning, she also noted that the idea of living in a hotel that is far from central campus makes her feel isolated from her residential college, dining halls and the main academic buildings.

“I personally understand where the university is coming from, but I wish they would have realized earlier that they would need McClellan for isolation housing,” Ball wrote in an email to the News. “It is hard finding out 1 and 1/2 days before I leave to come back that I will not be in my dorm room. I also have no idea if/when I will be able to go to my assigned room.”

Unlike Ball and Vasquez, Hank Michalik ’24 had already moved into his room in McClellan Hall when he received the email last Friday about being moved to the Omni. After already settling into his room and with only a two-day warning, Michalik has to pack his things and move into a hotel, while the possibility of a mid-semester move back to McClellan looms over him.  

The day after the Friday email, Michalik emailed Boyd on behalf of himself and around a dozen other students impacted by the move out of McClellan, writing “we are collectively outraged by this unjust and apathetic decision.” The email focused on the isolation of living in a hotel, the last-minute alteration to housing arrangements when Yale had months to plan for student returns to campus and the increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 that comes with living in a public hotel.

In response to the email, Boyd invited the students to meet to discuss how they can work together to mitigate the disruption and support the students. While Michalik would have preferred not to move out of McClellan Hall in the first place, he said that he and other students are now most concerned with certainty about the timeline. 

“We want a hard deadline as to when we get to move back into McClellan,” Michalik said. “That adds some certainty if we can say to ourselves, ‘Hey, we’ve been massively screwed over, but it’s only for a few weeks so let’s make the most of it until it is over.’ On top of it, we want an assurance that once we are moved back in, they won’t kick us out again if positivity rates rise in the future.”

The Omni Hotel is located on 155 Temple St.

Julia Bialek currently serves as a public editor for the Yale Daily News. Previously, she covered the student policy & affairs beat as a reporter on the university desk. Originally from Chappaqua, New York, Julia is a junior in Saybrook College studying political science and history.