By Shaun Chornobroff and Tori Pender
When Rider’s COVID-19 Implementation Team was deciding where to house students for the fall 2021 semester, they planned to place unvaccinated students in University House and use Poyda Hall as quarantine and isolation housing.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends for institutions that house both unvaccinated and vaccinated students to house the unvaccinated students separate from the vaccinated population. But when the demand for unvaccinated students living on campus exceeded what University House can support, they were forced to make a change.
According to an email sent by the COVID-19 Implementation Team on Sept. 1, unvaccinated students are tested on a weekly basis and approximately 150 students were approved to be exempt.
“So right off the bat, we knew that was something that we wanted to do. We originally had University House designated for unvaccinated students,” said Rider’s Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Planning and Secretary to the Board Debbie Stasolla, who also co-runs the implementation team. “But as the summer went on, we recognized we had a greater demand for on-campus housing among the students who were granted exemption requests. So we made Poyda available instead, we had offline Poyda for this year for quarantine and isolation housing. But instead we flipped the two.”
The switch to Poyda, a building with more space than University House, gave the implementation team the flexibility needed to ensure that all CDC guidelines, like having each unvaccinated person in a single room can be followed in an ideal manner.
“We also separate the medically exempt students from religiously exempt students, because the medically exempt students are at greater medical risk. So we were able to assign them to the buildings and the way the buildings are designed in such a way that we minimize contact between the medically exempt students and the religiously exempt students,” Stasolla said.
Poyda Hall is located in the back of Rider’s campus and is known for being an eye-sore of the university’s layout and being unmaintained. Julia Gonda, a sophomore business administration major is one of the unvaccinated students living in Poyda and has seen why the building comes with the reputation it does.
“The bathrooms are disgusting, supposedly there’s mold in one of the bathrooms. It was really hot in the beginning of the semester without any AC here and even with a fan. I’m just not surprised that they would put the unvaccinated students in one of the worst buildings like we had no choice,” said Gonda, who was exempt from the vaccine because of her religious beliefs.
“I had to write a whole letter having to justify why it went against my religious beliefs which I thought was unnecessary but I had to do what I had to do,” said Gonda.
When the university notified exempt on-campus students that they were being assigned to Poyda, Stasolla estimates that “no more than 20” students decided they would rather get vaccinated than be sentenced to the back of campus.
However, she assured that Poyda was chosen because it was the best fit for the
number of unvaccinated people that desired to live on campus because of increased available space.
“We saw it as a positive thing,” Stasolla said of the decision to switch to Poyda. “Even though I understand how students feel about Poyda Hall, we thought that it was at least still better to be able to let them have the opportunity to live on campus if that’s what they wanted to do.”
While they may be isolated from the rest of campus, the students housed in Poyda can still go to class, see their friends and for the most part live the college experience they work for.
“Other than the living situation, I haven’t felt really different from any [other] students on campus,” said Gonda.
Sophomore behavior neuroscience major Olivia Rosado also lives in Poyda and feels that her experience has not been abnormal compared to those who are vaccinated.
“I don’t mind living over here, it’s pretty much the same thing,” Rosado said of dorming in Poyda. “You still have to wear a mask, you still have to follow the same rules as everybody else. So to me, it [doesn’t] really make a difference.”