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Credit: Ava Cruz

Penn has extended the deadline to confirm on-campus housing without incurring the $500 cancellation fee from Nov. 20 to Dec. 1.

Given the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia and new city guidelines to limit the spread of the virus, many students remain skeptical of Penn's plans to open on-campus housing in the spring. Wary of last-minute changes as seen with Penn's decision in August to close on-campus housing for the fall, students criticized the original Nov. 20 deadline, which previously allowed them only three weeks to commit to living on campus.

"In order to plan for Spring housing needs and provide housing to other students who previously did not have an assignment but who now would like to return to campus, we need students to let us know their plans as soon as possible," Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "However, given the evolving pandemic, we are now extending the deadline to Tuesday December 1."

Students who request to cancel housing between Dec. 2 and Jan. 19 will have to pay a $500 fee, with the exception of international students who may be forced to cancel their assignments because of travel limitations or government policies. Students will not be able to cancel their assignments after Jan. 19. Students who have already accepted their assignment but would now like to cancel may also do so up until Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. without incurring a fee, Lea-Kruger wrote.

Wharton senior Gloria Zhu said she understood Penn's need to set a relatively early deadline for housing in order to obtain concrete numbers on the on-campus student population and prepare for spring operations. She said, however, requiring students to pay a $500 fee after any deadline is insensible, particularly during the pandemic.

“Nothing is set in stone until people are actually setting foot on campus, and up until that point, I don’t think there should be any fees or anything that can hurt someone,” Zhu said. “It just doesn’t make sense when things are so not stable right now.”

Zhu pointed out that the start of the spring semester is still months away, and with the spike in cases which could intensify during the winter months, a repeat of fall's reversal is not out of question. Despite administrators' reassurance that they are moving forward with Penn's plan to reopen in the spring, other students shared Zhu's sentiments.

“If Penn switches plans, I’m probably going back home, because I don’t have any extenuating circumstances [that require me to be on campus],” College first-year Thien Dinh said. 

Further criticism of the Nov. 20 deadline stemmed from the fact that many students who requested an assignment change would have to commit to on-campus housing without knowing if their request would be honored.

Under Penn's de-densifying plan to welcome students back on campus, up to six students can share one bathroom as long each student has a private bedroom. Some students whose assignments require them to share certain spaces like a bathroom with other students they do not know have requested a room change, unsure that they can trust a stranger to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Dinh, who is currently assigned to the Quad, has requested a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in one of the high rises for himself and a close friend.

“When you’re coming to a new place, it’s a bit nicer to see some familiar faces when you go home,” Dinh said. “You can trust people who you’re familiar with to stay safe [from COVID-19], and you have an idea for how hygienic they are.”

College first-year Rosanna Jiang, who is currently assigned to Riepe College House, described the process to swap housing assignments as confusing, while Zhu similarly called it "a mess."

Zhu was assigned to room with a student she does not know in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Harrison College House. In order to live with someone she is comfortable sharing the same space with during the pandemic, her friend has requested to swap housing assignments with Zhu's current assigned suitemate.

“We’ve been working at [completing the swap] since they released the room assignments [on Oct. 31], and we haven’t gotten anything,” Zhu said. "Hopefully we have some solid plans outlined for us by the new decision date and people can make a very informed decision on Dec. 1."