As she sat in quarantine at Ashton Center, freshman Maia Law saw her friend’s Teter Quad dorm room across the street and began putting up post-it note messages on her window like “Hi” and — on her last day — “I’m free.”
At night, she swiped through Snapchat stories and heard the laughter of college students not spending their weekends in isolation.
Law, who did not have COVID-19 but had been exposed to it, updated her window countdown each day to reflect how many days she had left in quarantine. People in surrounding dorms congratulated her with their own window post-it note messages.
“As soon as I walked out, I almost cried,” Law said of the day she got to leave Ashton. “I was just so happy to be in the fresh air and be able to walk around without people looking at me like I've got the plague.”
Four students who were quarantined or isolated at Ashton Center told the Indiana Daily Student problems they encountered during their stay. Some skipped meals because they did not understand the meal ordering system. Students said they saw others in isolation — who did have the coronavirus — throwing a party. Students said communication and instructions from IU were poor, adding to the confusion during an already stressful time.
Ashton houses students in isolation and quarantine in different buildings at the residence hall. Isolation housing is for students who test positive, while quarantine is for students who have not tested positive but were in contact with someone who did. Quarantine is supposed to last 14 days, IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said.
Students said they saw other quarantined students partying and hanging out with friends, disregarding the university’s strict COVID-19 rules. They also said they rarely saw Ashton employees patrolling and felt like other students did not follow the rules. Despite these allegations, Carney said employees are present around the clock.
IU uses the app Twistle to check on students in quarantine and log their symptoms daily. Carney said Ashton has people present 24 hours a day and 25 employees who do safety and security checks at all hours. Staff make rounds every two hours 24/7, he said.
Law said she saw multiple students breaking rules during her quarantine. She said most of the rules are straightforward, such as not going into other rooms and not being in close contact with one another.
Law was quarantined in Ashton from Sept. 17 to Oct. 2. Even though she didn’t test positive for COVID-19, three of her friends did and were sent into isolation housing.
She said her friends in isolation saw people staying in Ashton who had a party in their hallway because those students thought since they already had COVID-19 there was no risk. She said a person in a hazmat suit eventually shut down the party.
“To them, it seems like they were immune and kind of invincible once they really got the virus,” Law said.
Law said she saw a few other instances where students put others at risk. She met a girl in her hallway’s bathroom who said she was purposefully trying to catch the virus and had been going into isolation housing to hang out with people. Law also saw someone who wasn’t in Ashton sit down at a table with two people who were quarantined. Another person she knew snuck out of the quarantine dorm at night to hang out with friends.
Freshman James Troyer was sent to isolation after his second week on campus when his mitigation test came back positive. He had no major symptoms but experienced fatigue, headaches and a cough. He said he thought Ashton would be safer if more students followed directions such as wearing masks, staying in their room and not gathering with others. He didn’t think all of the rules in place were being enforced and only saw employees when they delivered his food, were cleaning or another student was leaving.
“You could get away with doing a lot of things that you weren't supposed to do because there's just not a lot of staff around,” Troyer said. “I really felt like I could have walked out of the building at any time and nobody really would have found me or found out about it for a long time.”
Carney said students are supposed to follow all of IU’s protocols because everyone signed the Student Commitment Form. Carney said IU has caught students breaking protocol and those who have are facing the consequences. However, he said most students have followed protocols.
“If they walk away, they're subject to possible suspension and sometimes expulsion, beyond that,” Carney said. “There have been suspensions for people walking away.”
Carney declined to say how many students have faced disciplinary action for misconduct at Ashton. He said administrators have not heard of students throwing parties and socializing. If they know about a disturbance, he said Ashton has staff present at all times to deal with issues.
Since the semester began, Carney said Ashton has not gone above 20% capacity. He said the dorm has more than 460 rooms open for quarantine and isolation. If a student is unhappy with their quarantine at Ashton, he said they can leave at any time to do so elsewhere.
Meal ordering and food quality
Students said the meal service has been confusing and has caused people to miss meals or resort to buying food off of food delivery apps. When IU did deliver meals, students said their orders were sometimes incorrect or late.
Orders must be placed at 3 p.m. the day prior to delivery so IU Dining can plan to have the right amount of staff and inventory, Carney said. When students check into Ashton after 3 p.m., he said they can call or email IU Dining to order a meal for that night. Extra meals are kept refrigerated at the front desk and students are asked to call if needed.
In September, two students in quarantine told the IDS about the food in Ashton. One student said the food quality was poor and seemed like an afterthought.
Troyer said he too missed a few meals because he was confused about how to order food. Since all Ashton residents’ food is delivered at once, he said sometimes he would receive food an hour after his scheduled time and knew at that point his meal had been sitting out for hours.
Freshman Cynthia Shen was quarantined in Ashton Center at the beginning of September. Shen said she rarely left her Eigenmann dorm room in early September and didn’t mingle much with her floormates but still managed to catch the virus. Shen did not experience symptoms.
After arriving at Ashton, Shen wanted a hot meal and was told by the front desk to order from a food delivery app. She had numerous issues downloading and ordering from delivery apps. On her second night, she canceled her order when her food wasn’t delivered after two hours. After she called the center desk, she said an Ashton employee brought her a pizza.
When she wasn’t able to order from IU, Shen said her meals consisted of cereals, chips and Coke for breakfast and lunch and a hot meal from Grubhub for dinner. Once her meal plan was set up, Shen said her food was routinely delivered about an hour or two after the set meal time and her order was sometimes wrong. Shen relied heavily on the snacks she brought.
“I am so glad I brought that or else I would have starved,” Shen said. “I think I'm kind of a little bit paranoid of not having enough food ever since.”
Students also allege issues with Ashton’s facilities such as the Wi-Fi, air conditioning, hot water and communal bathrooms. Students said they are worried about their safety since they have to share bathrooms with people who may be positive for COVID-19.
When Shen arrived, she said her room was in the basement and covered in spiderwebs. The Wi-Fi became a large issue for her. She said initially it would go out periodically but it eventually became completely unavailable. Her limited cell phone data plan could not handle her classes’ workload. To complete assignments, she sat in the hallway, on the stairs and on the large rocks outside.
Ashton residents can spend 30 to 45 minutes outside each day. Since Shen did not have Wi-Fi, she spent four or five hours outside each day for better internet access. No one checked on her during this time, she said.
When she called the center desk, Shen said she was told the Wi-Fi should be working and that no one else had that issue. The desk then told her she could change rooms or they could send someone to fix the Wi-Fi. She said she waited a few days but no one ever came, so she had to change rooms.
Shen also couldn’t change the temperature of her air conditioner and the on-and-off air flow made her dizzy and made it difficult for her to breathe, she said. When she called about this issue, she said they thought she was having new COVID-19 symptoms and wanted to send her an ambulance to take her to the emergency room. She was eventually given the AC remote and fixed her problem by changing the settings.
Freshman Ethan Glynn did not have hot water for most of his stay and said student affairs told him they would fix it and contact maintenance.
“We're in a position that that isn't by any means ideal,” Glynn said.
Despite being told he wasn’t going to have neighbors or communal bathrooms, Glynn had both during his stay. Ashton has a designated stall for specific rooms but he said there was no one who patrolled to make sure students followed the rules. No one checked on him unless he ordered food, Glynn said. He also alleged a student in his hallway tested positive but was never moved into isolation housing.
Troyer said he also did not want to share a bathroom with other students.
“I didn't think it would be the most healthy situation to have people who had COVID or potentially were around people that did,” Troyer said. “I didn't know if that was really the safest situation.”
All bathrooms are communal and cleaned once a day, Carney said. Vendor ServiceMaster Clean also disinfects three times a day.
Carney said IU has heard about different facility issues and is working to fix these problems with the appropriate campus department or partner. He said IU is continuing to work on keeping Ashton operating properly.
Poor communication from IU
All four students said IU could be doing a better job communicating with students while they are quarantined. Many said they were confused with different aspects of the Ashton quarantine process but received conflicting answers or none at all.
Upon arrival, all students receive a welcome packet with all procedures and rules for staying in quarantine, including the food ordering process, checkout and additional responsibilities, Carney said. He said students need to read these documents and watch the additional online videos. Residents can call the front desk any time with questions.
Shen was first notified that she tested positive for COVID-19 by email. She later received a phone call asking a few questions about her location and how she thought she could have caught the virus. She said she was told she was going to be picked up in two or three hours to be taken to Ashton.
Shen said she waited almost four hours for her ride to Ashton.
Law also said she also thought IU could have communicated better with quarantined students. She said she was confused about how she was supposed to check out at the end of her quarantine. She was told she had the wrong paperwork and had to complete a health center virtual visit before she was able to leave, which ended up taking an extra 45 minutes.
Students may experience delays in pickup if a previous pickup took extra time, Carney said. Vehicles are also cleaned after pickup. Carney said students should wait for a phone call from the staff picking them up before waiting outside.
Glynn received an email and phone call telling him he had to quarantine because he was in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. He said the contact-tracing process wasn't clear and he didn’t know what was happening. It was difficult to get any answers about how long he was supposed to stay at Ashton, he said. He said he received conflicting answers from different IU employees about whether he should stay for 10 or 14 days.
Glynn said he knows the employees at Ashton are doing the best they can. He thinks the problems stemming from Ashton are a result of the IU administration. He said it would have been better for IU to use enhanced residence halls, such as Briscoe, Spruce Hall or Union Street Center so students could have single bathrooms and better follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
IU Environmental Health and Safety chose Ashton because they considered the dorm to best meet IU’s COVID-19 safety protocols, Carney said.
Glynn said the experience was overall comfortable but there are definitely things IU can improve on. With mental health issues becoming more pervasive throughout the pandemic, Glynn said IU should have made a greater effort to make a healthier environment for students.
“For kids who struggle with any of those things, being put in a 14-day isolation definitely exacerbates the symptoms,” Glynn said.
Raiha Zainab contributed reporting.