With spring semester looming, students struggle to search for housing
Many feel pressured to find housing in D.C. despite lack of preparation
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on theeaglecoronavirusproject.com, a separate website created by Eagle staff at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020. Articles from that website have been migrated to The Eagle’s main site and backdated with the dates they were originally published in order to allow readers to access them more easily.
Some American University freshmen are scrambling to find housing in D.C. for the spring, in an attempt to salvage just a few elements of the typical first-year experience following the announcement that AU will be mostly online again next semester.
Freshman Margaret Curley began her apartment search in the beginning of October, anticipating that AU was going to be online during the spring.
“I didn’t want to be scrambling over Christmas break, trying to figure out my housing, and also possibly trying to find roommates and all of that,” Curley said. “I definitely think had they announced earlier, I probably wouldn’t have signed a lease, but because they’ve waited so long I feel like I’ve been kind of cornered into this situation.”
Based on a September Active Minds survey of about 2,000 students across the country, 77 percent of high school and post-secondary students said they have felt lonely and isolated over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Students across the U.S. are facing social deprivation as online school is becoming the new norm, with coronavirus infections increasing.
Curley said that social pressures also played a role in her decision to move to D.C.
“The only downside of online learning for me, so far, has been like socially I’ve had trouble not being able to see people in person,” Curley said. “So that definitely put more pressure on me, and AU kind of waiting until the end of October for that email made me a little bit nervous as well.”
Many upperclassmen have already lived off campus, so students like AU senior Sarah Ricker were quick to find housing before the fall semester even started.
Ricker said that she and her roommates looked for housing in July for the fall semester, and when AU originally announced a hybrid format, they got a new lease.
Although AU ended up switching from a hybrid to an all-online semester, Ricker and her roommates are happy with their decision to stay in D.C. for their final year as undergraduate students at AU.
“But ultimately, I think we stayed because it’s senior year … to feel that kind of independence and general school environment,” Ricker said. “We stayed in D.C. so we would be a little bit more motivated and concentrated on school.”
Some upperclassmen stayed in the area to be able to focus and maintain their academic performance. They’ve been taking advantage of the D.C. community by networking and getting work experience.
“Just because living back home is kind of like a restart, in a way, and my parents are home working so it would have just been strange,” Ricker said. “I don't think I would have been as motivated to get a job or an internship if I was at home living with my parents again.”
Curley looks forward to immersing herself in the D.C. community, and hopes that her move will present her with more opportunities.
“I want to start being able to grow a network in D.C. and get internships that are regional, so doing a lot of work with people I worked with in high school doesn't really look great on my resume,” Curley said. “So I want to start transitioning some of that, like career building stuff down to D.C., which is kind of hard to do from Massachusetts.”
With the urgency to find housing in D.C., Curley feels like she was rushed into signing a lease. Without guaranteed on-campus housing, she didn’t have any other choice but to find a place near campus with her roommates as soon as possible.
“I don’t feel prepared to be signing a lease right now. I don’t know how to pay utilities,” Curley said. “I just feel like it’s gonna be a really hard transition for the AU community, like, we’re gonna have a large group of students who have never lived on AU’s campus and never will, and I just wonder how that's gonna affect the community.”
In order to build a community, AU should work on accommodating the needs of out-of-state students and international students, freshman Hope Alex said.
Alex was hoping to leave her home state of Florida after living there her entire life, but when AU shifted online, she stayed home. Although she has been affected by AU going online, she is also concerned for international students who, due to time zone differences, have been struggling with courses.
Alex hopes to gain more independence if she moves to D.C. in the spring. She said she has been very cautious during the pandemic to reduce the risk of passing the virus to family members or roommates. Some students have not even had the opportunity to visit campus before the outbreak hit, Alex said.
“I’ll actually be able to see what college I’m going to, if I moved to D.C., because I have no idea what AU looks like,” Alex said. “Being constricted at home with two basically immunocompromised parents is kind of limiting. If I’m in D.C., then I’ll have a little bit more freedom to explore things with safety measures in place.”
Alex said that if she really wants to improve academically, she’ll need to change her environment. Taking classes and participating in politics from her childhood home is stressful and jarring, she said.
“A lot of people are overwhelmed. That's like a pretty big consensus I’ve seen, especially with the current political climate and the election,” Alex said. “People are on edge.”
Students hope that AU will try to recreate that feeling of community with students from all around the world once full campus operations are restored, they said.
“I’ve never heard the fight song. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know our prominent sports teams. I definitely don’t feel like an AU student — I could be a student anywhere and I would be having the exact same experience that I’m having right now,” Curley said. “I think AU has a lot of work to do in making sure that they work on building that community again.”