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Admin Puts Confirmed Cases With Sober Living Program

Zully Sosa, executive editor

Photo of Oren Gateway Center taken by Zully Sosa on Oct. 14

Students from the StepUP program, a residential recovery-based program on campus centered around substance-free living, have been living alongside COVID positive students without notice from administration. Any on-campus student found to be positive with COVID-19 that needs to take the mandatory two week quarantine is promptly moved from their dorm room to the same floor as the StepUP program in Oren Gateway Center. 

Elena Geiger, a Student Peer Advisor and member of the StepUP program, spoke out against this arrangement in an email to Dean of Students Sarah Griesse on Sept. 27. “These decisions raise serious questions about the University’s support of StepUP, and a disregard of the stress and anxiety that students in collegiate recovery are already experiencing without having to worry every day about being exposed to and getting COVID,” said Geiger in her email to Griesse. “It appears to place the health and wellbeing of other students over that of StepUP students.” 

“These decisions raise serious questions about the University’s support of StepUP, and a disregard of the stress and anxiety that students in collegiate recovery are already experiencing without having to worry every day about being exposed to and getting COVID”

Elena geiger

This email also included anonymous quotes collected from other StepUP participants, who wanted to share with administration that they have a “fear of getting sick” and that this situation is “dangerous to everyone who lives on the floor.” Geiger stressed that part of the reason she has four years of sobriety under her belt is thanks to the supportive community she found through the StepUP program, who are now under high levels of stress and anxiety about their living situation. 

Many participants in the StepUP program came to Augsburg specifically for this collegiate recovery experience, making a majority of them out of state students without other housing options. Despite this nationwide draw, the number of students participating in the StepUP program has begun to decrease, as administration has not been clear on their COVID precautions in regards to the program. This has been an existing issue since last year, Geiger revealed to the Echo. 

“Last year the previous Residence Life director [Amanda Erdman] sent out a mass email saying that everyone must go home, and a lot of students in the StepUP program are from out of state, and that would leave a lot of students displaced.” explained Geiger. “It didn’t seem like there was any planning including the StepUP program students until after it was brought up and Residence Life basically said – ‘Oh StepUP students can stay on campus if they want, they don’t have to, but they can.’” 

An additional concern for Geiger that came alongside living beside students isolating is how easy it is for protocol to be broken. “A lot of people would break quarantine. Last year I called DPS and Residence Life seven times because of people breaking isolation.” She adds that no action was taken due to these reports as she was unable to name the students who broke quarantine, despite their identities being purposefully kept secret by administration to protect their privacy. “Being told that they can not do anything is not reassuring because it then invalidates my actions of trying to keep the community safe.” 

In response, Augsburg Day Student Government has created a proposal to resolve this housing situation, calling for the appropriate administration members to create and publish isolation policies and procedures to be distributed to all on-campus residents and create a prevention plan for close contact that will notify residents of when COVID positive students will be moved in or out of the building. Additionally, they ask that students receive a notification if housing on their floor could possibly be used for quarantines and that at least one student, a resident advisor or comparable student representative, from each floor affected by the isolation housing be included in housing decisions that can affect their health. This resolution has been passed on to the Augsburg Staff Senate and no decision has been made on it as of Oct. 13. 

StepUP students are at a higher risk of exposure than other residential students on campus due to them being in such close proximity to confirmed cases. Sarah Griesse quickly responded to Elena Geiger’s email with an invitation to meet and discuss her concerns. As of Wednesday, Oct. 13, there has been no meeting scheduled.