‘Berg reacts to changes in residence hall visitor policy

Confused by the Residence Hall Visitor Policy? You’re not the only one.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted campus life in a multitude of ways. It was thought that the vaccine would help facilitate a return to normalcy, and while it is a big sign of progress that students are back on campus and learning in-person, some policies from last year remain in place. Though, unlike last semester, while students can leave campus and travel wherever they please, off-campus visitor guidelines are still strictly in place. Current regulations dictate that no visitors are allowed in college-owned residence halls or housing of any kind, with a visitor being defined as “any individual who is a non-Muhlenberg student” according to the updated policy guidelines published on Aug. 29 of this year. The repercussions for a violation of these policies are severe: a primary sanction can range from a warning all the way to removal from housing entirely.

COVID regulations do not only apply to non-Muhlenberg students; the student body is still required to maintain the masking precedents from the previous semesters. There are currently three statuses of masking that campus administrators have outlined: red, yellow and green. These phases are determined by a multitude of metrics, using both data from on-campus spread and COVID infection numbers in the Lehigh Valley. The red phase requires all individuals to wear a mask both inside all spaces and outside when on campus. The yellow phase requires masks for all individuals when indoors except for in residence halls, and the green phase is the most lenient, with only those that are unvaccinated being required to wear a mask on campus. Muhlenberg, as of right now, is in the yellow phase. According to Courtney Stephens, the director of housing and residence life, “Breakthrough infections can still occur, as can the transmission of the virus from a vaccinated person to an unvaccinated person… measures such as masking are still necessary to ensure the safe, in-person experience of our community.” In addition, it is believed that the banning of non-Muhlenberg students from residence halls will protect the current status of herd immunity, which is demonstrated by the COVID-19 dashboard. The dashboard shows that 96 percent of students are fully vaccinated, one percent are partially vaccinated, and three percent have approved exceptions. All of these factors point to residence hall visitor restrictions staying in place for some time. 

“Breakthrough infections can still occur, as can the transmission of the virus from a vaccinated person to an unvaccinated person… measures such as masking are still necessary to ensure the safe, in-person experience of our community.”

Talking to a number of students, there is widespread confusion about what the actual guidelines are. Of the students that were interviewed, only about 20 percent of them actually knew what the guidelines were. When asked their opinions on the visitor guidelines,  one student remarked that they “had no idea that [regulations] even existed.” The lack of knowledge regarding the new policies might be problematic, especially when considering the severity of the potential consequences. 

There were diverse opinions among those that were familiar with the guidelines. As one student put it, “I don’t agree with the guidelines, but I understand, given the circumstances, why they are necessary.” Her friend shared that sentiment, saying “I agree. I don’t like the fact that I can’t have non-Muhlenberg students in my room, but I prefer it to being shut down.” 

Not everyone was so accepting of the new guidelines. Ian Clark ‘25 questioned the policy, saying that, “[If] visitors are allowed in Seegers, the dining hall and other academic buildings, then why can’t they come into the residence halls? Just have them wear a mask. As long as safety protocols are put in place, I don’t see any issue with it.” 

“I understand the not sleeping over part. I know other colleges have allowed that, and they have had bad COVID outbreak[s]. But, I don’t understand the not going into the residence halls at all,” Matthew Baresh ‘25 said. 

“I can see the risk if people are not wearing a mask, but we know that most people are vaccinated and that masks are effective, so as long as the visitor has been vaccinated and wears a mask, I don’t see the issue with them going inside the residence halls,” said Ethan Yazdanyar ‘25. 

“[If] visitors are allowed in Seegers, the dining hall and other academic buildings, then why can’t they come into the residence halls? Just have them wear a mask. As long as safety protocols are put in place, I don’t see any issue with it.”

When the 2021 COVID guidelines were being created, the College consulted with about 250 students to ensure safety while also being attentive to student’s needs. Administrators are also working closely with the Student Government Association and Peer Health Advocates at Muhlenberg regarding policy updates and changes.

PHAM member Chris Xu ‘22 comments that “The residence hall policy is good especially because students can easily socialize in groups without having the mask restriction. With the vaccine mandate, there is little risk from the outside Allentown community for transmission. That allows students to be together with lowered restrictions. However, this could potentially change if there are non-Muhlenberg people entering residence halls.”

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