Barnhart Hall is an incoming freshman’s nightmare. Its location, farther from campus than any other dorm, was once a disadvantage. But now Barnhart’s distance from campus has made it the perfect location for students that have tested positive for COVID or been in contact with it.
On Oct. 4, University of Oregon freshman Grace Winjum was in close contact with a friend who developed COVID symptoms. Upon contacting University Health Services, Winjum was brought to Barnhart Hall and required to stay for 14 days in isolation.
Despite the UO’s attempts to contain the virus, Winjum, along with many other students and residential advisors (RA), expressed concerns with the university’s lack of guidelines or supervision in the hall.
“There were definitely people who would bring visitors in and throw parties in their dorms [in Barnhart] just because there weren’t any residence advisors,” Winjum says.
The university has continued to deny reports of parties or large gatherings in Barnhart Hall and says that it is addressing any behavior that falls outside of policies and guidelines. Director of Residence Life and Educational Initiatives Anna Schmidt-MacKenzie says there has only been one instance of students gathering, which was dealt with, and that there have only been a “handful” of instances of students walking out of their rooms without a mask.
Emails from Schmidt-MacKenzie to Barnhart residents show that the university was informed of concern within the hall.
“The team delivering food and handling the cleaning in Barnhart have shared concerns that compromise the health and safety of the community,” Schmidt-MacKenzie wrote in an email to students in Barnhart on Oct. 12. “It is very important that everyone complies with the expectations in Barnhart.”
Many of the posts on the Instagram account “COVID Campus” address the arising situation at Barnhart Hall. Run by four former and current UO students, the account posts user-submitted entries that most often concern the university’s handling of COVID. An open Google form linked in the bio allows for all posts to be anonymous. First formed in August of this year, the account has amassed more than 3,600 followers.
One student who claimed to have been in isolation at Barnhart posted on “COVID Campus” that “there is almost zero supervision on anyone in the building, there are obviously no residential advisors. At least three times in the past week exposed and possible infected students have been throwing parties on the higher floors.”
Another anonymous post from an RA claimed that someone on their floor was sent to Barnhart but that the RA was never told who was sent. Only later did that RA find out that the exposed student was regularly returning to their hall to hang out with friends.
Freshman Luca Perzik was exposed to the virus while in the dorms and said that during his two weeks in Barnhart, he didn’t see any parties or large gatherings. Perzik did note that organization and supervision was minimal throughout his stay. “The first day I got to Barnhart it was 4 o’clock, which was after other students received lunch. I asked [the supervisors] what I should do for lunch and they said, ‘You should just go to McDonalds.’ I was confused because I thought I was supposed to be quarantining.”
Perzik and Winjum said that students were also given two hours a day of unsupervised “free time” to leave quarantine and go anywhere they wanted. Emails obtained from Schmidt-MacKenzie confirm that students in isolation are allowed to leave from 9 to 11 am every day and students in quarantine from 1 to 3 pm.
One RA who tested positive for COVID told Eugene Weekly that she saw multiple students leave Barnhart during free time and get in cars with other people. The RA wished to remain anonymous in fear that she would lose her job. The UO contract states that RAs aren’t supposed to talk about their positions without approval from someone.
Since Sept. 28, at least 512 students have reported to the university that they tested positive for COVID-19. ZIP codes with UO students (97401-97404) have also accounted for half of all COVID cases in Lane County.
In an interview with EW, Schmidt-MacKenzie said she believes that students have been for the most part “incredibly conscientious,” but said that recently the university has implemented an increased presence within Barnhart.
“I have a lot of faith in students. I like to think that the only reason you play by the rules isn’t because someone is watching you,” Schmidt-MacKenzie says.