David: Why Hinman is a bigger problem than you think

Loretta David, Columnist

Once I saw two pink lines on my BinaxNOW test, I knew that I could kiss the next ten days goodbye. Soon enough, I got a call from Quarantine and Isolation Housing telling me that they were going to pick me up. On the way there, I was brimming with confusion. I had no idea how I had gotten COVID-19 and didn’t know how badly the virus would affect me. However, upon stepping into 1835 Hinman, my confusion quickly turned into concern. I didn’t for one second expect my experience at Hinman to live up to the standards of a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, but, I also didn’t expect to spend most of my time there hungry, confused and disheartened. 

Upon arrival, I was met by a bag of snacks on my bed that was supposed to last me two weeks. The bag was empty by Day 5. I was not given an actual meal for breakfast. Instead, I was expected to eat the miniature cereal bowls that came with my snacks. My dinners often came cold and late. My room was unbearably hot, so I left my window open for three days to let freezing air in. I was confused by Northwestern’s COVID-19 guidelines  because they differ from the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines. Communication from case management was inconsistent. They were overwhelmed with the spike of cases from students returning to campus, so there was nothing I could do but wait. 

The conditions at Hinman became the laughing stock on campus. Pictures of people sneaking in food from their windows were front and center on @barstoolcats. Yik Yak was sprawling with jokes about people having roommates in quarantine housing. However, the humor masks the bigger issue at hand. Students who have been diagnosed with a potentially deadly virus should not have to worry about the housing conditions they’ll face for the next 10 days. 

After all, it wasn’t COVID-19 that made me feel ill I was asymptomatic during my stay. It was Himan’s conditions that made me feel hopeless, despite knowing that I was going to be let out. I was tired, lonely and disappointed with the environment that I had been left in. 

By having abysmal quarantine housing conditions, NU runs the risk of deterring students from getting tested for COVID-19. If students know that a positive test will send them to Hinman where nothing awaits them but inadequate food portions, hours of isolation and confusing communication from case management, then students will not get tested unless the University requires it. NU must strive for an environment where students get tested to keep themselves, and the community safe, not simply because they are required to. 

While I did not enjoy my time at Hinman, it does not give me the right to use my platform as a cathartic device against NU. The staff at Hinman were benevolent, but most importantly they were trying their best with what they were given. I write this piece not out of spite, but out of concern for those who will stay in Hinman after me. During unprecedented times like this, it is important for all of us to show grace. The world is understaffed, people are burnt out from working through the pandemic and the science behind COVID-19 is still developing everyday. NU, as an institution and community, should take each day and each case as a learning opportunity.  

First and foremost, NU should provide sufficient mental health resources for those in isolation. Having no contact with others for days on end can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health. Isolation housing should not inflict further harm on students who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. NU should ensure that trained mental health professionals are available to those in isolation for free. 

NU should also offer a broader range of options on the Q/I meal menu. The small range of meal options on the Q/I housing menu further exacerbates students’ issues with meals not being nutritious enough. An expanded menu should have just as many options as one would get in the dining hall and should also be inclusive to those with dietary restrictions. 

Finally, NU should invest in hiring more quarantine staff. Even though NU’s COVID positivity rate has declined over the past two weeks, no one knows if there will be another spike in cases. It’s imperative that NU prepare its staff and resources for future cases and consider expanding quarantine housing to prevent students from having roommates. 

Moving forward, NU should prioritize making Quarantine and Isolation Housing a comfortable experience for its students. Dealing with the pandemic is already an arduous process for almost everyone. Students need to know that if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 their time in quarantine will not be a harrowing experience. Ultimately, it’s up to NU to create conditions where all of its students feel safe and protected amidst a developing public health crisis. 

Loretta David is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.