Messages from the University

Washington University Fall Opening Update: Returning Students and Families

July 31, 2020

Dear returning upper-division students and families,

I hope all of you are safe and well. We have heard from many of you this summer – we very much appreciate the many ideas and suggestions, and the words of encouragement from so many, as we strive to face together the big challenges before us this fall. Our goal throughout our planning has been driven by our desire to bring as many of us back together in person as we can while also implementing appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of our community. We know we are at our best when we are together.

By now you have had the opportunity to review the message from Chancellor Andrew D. Martin and Provost Beverly Wendland related to our fall planning. There are many important details in that message about the return to campus.

There is one thing we need all of you to do by 5 p.m. CDT, on Wednesday, August 5. Now that you have seen our detailed plans for fall, you will need to submit an Intention for Fall Study form to indicate whether you plan to study in-person or remotely.

I want to provide some brief additional updates below.

WashU Community Pledge and Policy Acknowledgement

We know this has been hard for all of you. Hard to be away from your friends, your student groups, our faculty and staff, and the campus we all love. While we know the campus experience this fall won’t be the same as when you left, we also know that if we are willing to work together, to follow our public health principles, many of us can be together.

Please carefully review the WashU Community Pledge and Policy Acknowledgment for Students. We are asking that you make sure you will be able to adhere to this Community Pledge, including the public health requirements for those of you who are returning to campus, and that you all understand the policies for the fall semester, whether you will be studying on campus or remotely. The Community Pledge will be part of a COVID-19 education and training module that you all will be required to complete through Canvas before the semester begins. You’ll be provided more information on the module soon.

In order for us to be together, we must agree to:

  • Wear face coverings at all times when we are indoors (except in suites and apartments with only your roommates) and when we are outside and unable to maintain 6 feet of physical distance;
  • Physically distance at all times – this means we must stay 6 feet apart from those people we do not live with in individual suites and apartments – AT ALL TIMES;
  • Monitor symptoms and stay home if we are not feeling well – there will be a daily self-screening tool for all of us who are coming to campus that will help us do this together;
  • Practice great hygiene by washing our hands regularly for at least 20 seconds and following other health recommendations.

Staying Connected and the Academic Experience

We know not everyone will be able to be here in person, and to support those of you who can’t be with us on campus this fall, please know we are hard at work developing new and innovative ways to stay connected – whether that is through virtual connections with our hundreds of student groups, the online courses being developed by our world-class faculty, or the plans we have in place to support and connect students and employers and internships through our career services. Your academic deans will send additional details about your academic program shortly.

Arrival to Campus and Testing

Very soon, those who are planning to return to campus in person will be arriving from all over the country and around the world. We are asking every student and family coming to campus to significantly limit their interactions with others for two weeks before departing for campus. Additionally, we are developing plans for testing students who will be living in University housing when they arrive in September. The University will not accept test results administered prior to arriving on campus. If you are taking classes on campus, you will receive a care kit that includes a mask/face covering and a thermometer. More information will be available when we communicate detailed information about our move-in process later in August.


Washington University is known for its world-class residential life program and the many outstanding housing options we provide to our students both on and near campus. The biggest challenge we face related to housing our students this fall is density. We have carefully considered and studied many options for the fall given our existing housing portfolio and options that are available to us near campus. We have decided on the plan below – a plan that prioritizes student safety and that of our community while also allowing our students to be able to live together in a community and study on and near our campus.

In response to COVID-19, the American College Health Association has recommended placing all students in single bedrooms. All students living in on- and off-campus Residential Life managed properties will be assigned to single private bedrooms. This will reduce our on-campus residential density to no more than 65% of the normal capacity, and will limit the number of people sharing bathrooms. Residence hall lounges, study rooms, kitchens, and other common spaces will be reconfigured and marked to allow for physical distancing. In some cases, furniture will be moved or removed entirely to create more space.

While we normally guarantee housing to all students during all four years, that will not be possible in the current environment because of health and safety concerns and the need to de-densify our campus. There will be some students – juniors and seniors – who were planning to live in Residential Life housing who will have to make alternative plans for the fall. Unfortunately, all housing contracts submitted by juniors and seniors will not be accepted, and there will be an addendum required for sophomore students who have submitted a contract. Juniors and seniors may reapply for housing through Residential Life. Details for how to do this will be shared soon. Priority will be given to those with special circumstances, and depending on our overall cancellation numbers, we may have additional housing spaces become available that we will assign by a waitlist system.

Here is how we will prioritize housing assignments:

  • First-year students will live on the South 40, which is where all new students live during their first year, every year. Even though everyone will be living in single rooms, we will attempt to honor existing roommate requests by assigning those students near or adjacent to each other.
  • All sophomores who had a housing contract with Residential Life will be provided with housing, but very few will live in the rooms they were assigned in the spring. Sophomores will be assigned across the South 40, the North Side, and some will reside off-campus. We will work to try to keep groups together as much as possible.
  • Juniors and seniors who request housing through Residential Life will be assigned through a special housing selection process, although we cannot guarantee a housing assignment. We know that some students face difficult personal situations and it is our goal to ensure that those students who were planning to live with us in the fall still have comfortable options. Junior and senior international students who were planning to live in Residential Life housing and who are unable to return to their permanent residences will be provided with housing. Additionally, we will consider a student’s health and medical needs, financial circumstances, the safety of a student’s home situation or other individual situations where it is determined that the only reasonable option for a student is for them to return to campus housing. We will review cases and make decisions in a way that is trauma-informed, student-centered, and that prioritizes support for our most vulnerable students. In almost all cases, juniors and seniors will be required to live off campus.

To manage this need to reduce density and provide students with single room living options, Residential Life is in the process of securing approximately 450 additional beds near campus. These units will be assigned directly by Residential Life and they are located in apartments near campus, Everly on the Loop, and the Moonrise Hotel. All of these options are fully furnished and shuttle service will be available to and from campus.

Any sophomore student who previously submitted a housing contract and who is now no longer interested in a Residential Life assignment should cancel their housing contract by 5 p.m. CDT August 5th. Housing assignments for those with existing contracts who do not cancel by August 5th will be finalized by August 24. Following the release of assignments, those students will have until 5 p.m. CDT on August 31 to cancel their housing contract without penalty.

We know many students will decide to study remotely this fall as a result of the pandemic. This may create some additional housing space and we will be running a waitlist for those juniors and seniors who want to be considered for openings should they become available.

It is also important to share that in light of the pandemic, we are reserving a significant number of beds on campus to be used as both isolation housing for COVID-positive students, and quarantine housing for those who have been exposed to COVID and need a place to self-isolate based on the recommendations of our medical team. Staff from Habif Health & Wellness Center will monitor students staying in isolation and quarantine housing. We will ensure the students in university isolation and quarantine housing have meals delivered and that they do not need to leave their rooms. In many cases, COVID-positive students will be asked to share apartments with other COVID-positive students while they recover. Students told to quarantine will be assigned to stay in a room by themselves. Quarantine and isolation housing will be available by referral from Habif Health & Wellness Center to all students, regardless of whether they have an existing Residential Life contract.

Finally, to help ensure the safety of our residential communities, our guest policies will be changed for the fall semester. Residential Life properties will only be accessible to the students who live there and the staff who work there. Guests, including those who live in other residential spaces on campus, will not be permitted until the public health situation improves. There will be exceptions for a limited number of family members related to move-in – those details will be communicated soon.

Later today, Residential Life will send a follow-up communication with important and detailed instructions to students with current housing contracts.

Town Halls

We are planning several town halls next week, and I hope you can join my colleagues and me as we answer questions and share additional information about the fall semester. The town hall schedule and information about how to participate are available on the WashU Together website.

International Students

We understand that this spring and summer brought many changes to U.S. governmental guidance around your visa status throughout the pandemic. We are glad that the current policy provides you the most flexibility to maintain your status and safety while studying at WashU. The Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) will continue to provide summaries of relevant guidelines and be your main source of information regarding any updates. Please look for a communication from OISS later today regarding questions and information on next week’s town hall addressing the details for international students returning to campus.

Financial Support

We know the current pandemic has affected every single one of you. I want to make sure you know that we are here for you. For some, these past few months have created financial strain. Please reach out to your individual financial aid counselor in Student Financial Services if you have questions about your personal situation. Families whose financial circumstances have changed significantly are also encouraged to apply for need-based aid, even if they didn’t qualify in the past.

We also are re-opening the student crisis fund as an additional source of support. Information about the crisis fund will be available next week. In addition, we have worked hard this summer to make sure there is extra technology support available to all students eligible for financial aid who may need a new computer. Finally, I want to be clear that in the event the University needs to move to alternate operations again as a result of the pandemic, our housing and dining will remain open for students who are in a situation where they are not able to travel home.

I want you all to know how much my colleagues and I have missed you these past four and a half months. Washington University is a great place to work, teach and study, because of you, our very talented students!  I look forward to being together with you again soon, whether in person or virtually. I know we can do this if we work together!


Robert M. Wild, Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs