University of Iowa prepares for students to return to on-campus living by adapting residence, dining halls

Physical spaces like residence halls and market places will look different than previous years, in a campus-wide effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.


Currier Residence Hall is seen on Friday, May 1, 2020.

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter

As the start of the fall semester nears, students prepare to begin on or return to a University of Iowa campus that differs from previous years, with policies and procedures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The information that UI administrators are providing is fairly consistent with past years, director of Housing Administration Virginia Ibrahim-Olin said. Housing was still available for all incoming students seeking to live in residence halls, and each still had the opportunity to request a roommate.

“The big difference that we are sharing with individuals has been related to our housing contract terms and conditions,” Ibrahim-Olin said. “Those have been updated to reflect the health and safety expectations for people living in the residence halls.”

Ibrahim-Olin added that students will be required to wear personal protective equipment in the residence halls, unless they are in their dorm room, and they will be limited to one guest per person. Students will also be limited to two guests on move-in day.

Some rooms will be set aside for emergency use, however the specific areas allocated for that purpose are not yet confirmed because they are subject to change in the coming weeks.

According to the UI’s fall 2020 plan, some common spaces will be closed, while others will be adjusted to promote social distancing, including dining halls.

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Ibrahim-Olin said campus dining spaces have undergone some significant reconfigurations.

According to the fall plan, tables will be spaced 6 feet apart from each other, with no more than six chairs at a table. Self-service food has been discontinued, and there will be vertical barriers between students and dining staff. There will also be an online ordering system to serve as an alternative to the market places.

Johnson County Public Health has communicated with the university on fall plans, encouraging physical distancing and wearing PPE wherever and whenever possible.

“The other thing I would say we’d either want to continue to discuss and be thoughtful on is what goes on outside of classroom life and dormitory life, and certainly we know that there is a desire for everyone to gather and be social,” said Sam Jarvis, community health manager for Johnson County Public Health.

Tina Arthur, UI director of Orientation Services, has worked with her team to academically prepare students for their first year of college amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re adding in some information into our Success at Iowa course that all new students take on how to be a successful online student, since we know all students are likely going to have at least one class that’s meeting virtually,” Arthur said.

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Because orientation is virtual this year, Arthur is hoping On Iowa! will help freshmen and transfer students make the social transition into college life at the UI.

“We find a lot of value in bringing the new class on campus and helping them navigate their new physical campus — their new physical home — and so trying to put all of that online was certainly challenging,” Arthur said.

Ibrahim-Olin said that, despite changes, many steps of the process in this transitional time, especially for freshmen, will be similar to past years.“You’ve got to pack. You’ve got to figure out how to talk to your roommate about what it’s going to be like to live together. And so I want to normalize that those traditional transitions are still going to occur for people,” Ibrahim-Olin said. “… Yes, learning to communicate while wearing a face mask is going to be a little bit different, but that enthusiasm is still there. You’re still going through it, not alone. There are tons of people on this campus who are willing to help you know. We might just be via screen instead of next to each other.”