Two University of Georgia students are calling for UGA to waive its mandatory housing contract cancellation fee in order to prioritize the safety of students, faculty and staff in the COVID-19 era.
Rising sophomores Maggie Mitchell and Zainub Ali have created an Instagram page and hashtag “#WaiveTheFeeUGA” alongside a petition directed to the executive director of University Housing Linda Kasper. They have also provided a call and email script for people to contact UGA housing.
For students who want to continue taking classes but wish to cancel their year-long housing contract, there is a contract cancellation fee equivalent to 50% of the remaining portion of the license fee for the assigned space for the entire contract period, according to the 2020-21 University Housing contract. This means students have to pay half of what they still owe to the university after moving out, alongside a prorated nightly rate for all nights occupying their room.
Housing costs anywhere from $2,454 to $4,136 per semester, depending on what dorms students are in, according to University Housing.
View this post on Instagram
The University of Georgia claims to prioritize the health and well-being of its students, yet continues to charge an unreasonable fee for those wishing to cancel their housing contract. The policy currently in place is standard protocol, but the circumstances we find ourselves in due to COVID-19 produce challenges and health risks that can’t be adequately addressed by standard protocol. In light of this, we are calling for UGA to waive the housing contract cancellation fee. Swipe through the slides to learn more about the policy, COVID-19 cases in GA, and what you can do to urge housing to #WaiveTheFeeUGA
Although Housing provided an opportunity for students to cancel their housing contract with no fee from May 19 through May 27, Mitchell and Ali said this was a limited window of time, and “a time in which the future was extremely uncertain” as UGA had not released any specific information about plans for reopening the campus prior.
On May 19, Georgia had 38,855 confirmed COVID-19 cases. On Monday, the state had 195,435 confirmed cases, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“We really worry for all the low-income students who can’t afford this cancellation fee and are forced to live in an unsafe environment on campus where the risk of spreading COVID-19 is increased,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell, a political science and sociology major from Louisville, Kentucky, said this was personal for her since she is an out-of-state student.
“Before starting our campaign, we were pretty disappointed with UGA Housing … as an out-of-state student, I had a lot of concerns about what I need to do if I get infected. Will there be dorms for students who test positive? How will I get food? They did not have the answers to any of my questions,” Mitchell said.
Stan Jackson, the assistant to the vice president for student affairs, didn’t respond to questions sent by The Red & Black before press time.
Ali, an international affairs and economics major from Athens, said she is advocating on behalf of incoming freshmen.
“The majority of people living on-campus are first year students, and in reality, they don’t know how to advocate, they don’t know people, or how the system works,” Ali said. “But these students should be able to prioritize their health and well-being, and UGA Housing is not allowing that.”
The cancellation fee isn’t new, but Ali said that “the circumstances we find ourselves in produce challenges and health risks that can’t be adequately addressed by standard protocol.”
Mitchell and Ali believe that this cancellation policy affects everyone on campus. “This will only increase the number of students in residence halls and dorms, which makes it harder to socially distance and increases the risk of exposure for everyone on campus,” Mitchell said.
Connor Green is a rising senior English major from East Lansing, Michigan, and a student senator for Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Green said that UGA’s current stance on the cancellation policy is “quite frankly nothing short of recklessly negligent.”
“As an institution of higher learning, UGA has an obligation to protect the health and safety of all students, and it fails to do so as long as it traps at-risk students in the position of choosing between their physical health and financial stability,” Green said. “As long as COVID-19 remains a threat to on-campus safety, UGA should allow students to cancel their housing contracts without a financial penalty out of human decency and to save lives.”