Vivek Kondapavuluru thought living in a dorm his freshman year would help him make new friends and better integrate into the campus community.
Those hopes disappeared when he looked in his housing portal and saw that he didn’t have a roommate anymore, Kondapavuluru said. The 18-year-old UF business administration freshman is one of the thousands of students whose roommate canceled their housing contract.
“Up until that point, I still had an idea in my head that this year would be normal, and I would have the normal freshman experience that my older friends talked about,” he said.
More than one third of UF on-campus housing contracts for the upcoming academic year have been canceled, according to records obtained by The Alligator.
The original deadline to cancel contracts without penalty was May 1, according to the UF Housing and Residence Education website, but the deadline was extended to July 17 to allow students to adjust their plans. UF Student Affairs Spokesperson Sara Tanner wrote in an email to The Alligator that almost half of the contract cancellations occurred during that period.
UF Housing and Residence Education reopened the option to cancel contracts July 10 after the university released a Fall reopening plan including an updated schedule of classes with only 35 percent of course “sections” to be held in-person or “hybrid,” meaning a mix of in-person and online.
About 1,000 more contracts were canceled this year than usual, she wrote.
The same day that the deadline to cancel was extended, UF Housing and Residence Education announced housing COVID-19 guidelines in an email to residents of university housing. Some regulations included limiting room occupancy to two, requiring masks in all areas besides residents’ private rooms and banning visitors.
UF Housing and Residence Education offered new contracts to a waiting list of 300 students who the department did not have space for when they applied, Tanner said. She added that 70 students have signed new contracts since July 17.
Housing and Residence Education also opened 30-minute slots July 27 and Thursday for students who were without a roommate to request a new companion. Slots opened July 27 were for students in suite- and apartment-style dorms, and Thursday’s were for traditional dorms. The openings were the last opportunity for students to request a specific roommate, according to an email sent July 24 to residents of university housing.
Housing and Residence Education will assign roommates for students who do not find a match, and the department expects to fill all vacancies by Tuesday, Tanner wrote.
Mia Johnson, an 18-year-old biochemistry freshman, is one of many students who will begin her college experience from home.
After she found out her entire schedule would be online in Fall after the July 10 update, Johnson said she had to decide between moving to college or saving money. On the last day to cancel, she decided the financial savings would be worth it. She, and more than 3,650 other students, dropped their housing contracts.
She said the choice was difficult to make, but that it’s the safer and more cost effective option.
“I really wanted to live on campus, just to be able to be independent and meet new people,” she said.
Johnson said she was also worried UF might shut down housing in Fall and ask students to leave mid-semester. This is similar to what happened in Spring, when UF President Kent Fuchs encouraged UF students to return to their hometowns in March after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced four UF students tested positive for COVID-19. The university did not shut down housing, but it urged students to leave.
Some of the social distancing measures for Fall include limiting room capacity to two people, limiting guests and requiring face coverings in common areas like hallways, communal kitchens and communal bathrooms, according to the reopening plan. It is unclear how these measures will be enforced.
Katherine Terry, an 18-year-old UF psychology freshman, said she initially planned to room with Johnson in Rawlings Hall.
Terry said the two decided to be roommates after meeting on Facebook in early June. Since then, the pair had texted to make plans to decorate and brainstorm indoor activities to avoid exposure to COVID-19. While Johnson canceled her contract, the pair hope to remain friends despite the separation, she said.
Terry found her new roommates, three other 18-year-old UF freshmen, also through Facebook, less than 24 hours after Johnson canceled her contract, she said.
She transferred from a traditional shared dorm in Trusler Hall to a two-bedroom suite in Beaty Towers July 20.
Terry said she hopes the suite will be safer in Fall than in Trusler Hall, where she would have shared a bathroom and kitchen with the rest of her floormates. In Beaty Towers, she will only share her bathroom and kitchen with her three roommates.
Lianna Hubbard is a reporter for The Alligator’s Investigative Team. The UF women’s study major began as a freelance reporter three years ago. She founded her community college’s award-winning newspaper before beginning at The Independent Florida Alligator. See an issue in your community or a story at UF? Send tips to her Twitter.