The University approved Chinese international students’ continuous housing requests on Dec. 5 after initially denying a number of requests for housing over winter break.
The approval came after a petition organized by several international students, which called on the Continuous Housing Committee to grant them access to housing over winter break.
“A number of international students from China were initially denied continuous housing because they did not meet the outlined criteria,” University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss wrote to The Daily Princetonian. “After consulting with the Global Safety and Security office, the Continuous Housing Committee approved these requests for this winter break based on COVID-19-related travel challenges in China.”
At the time, China was under a “zero-COVID” policy, which included strict lockdowns after a few positive cases and isolation in government-run quarantine facilities. The government has recently, as of Dec. 7, removed some of the most severe measures in the wake of what the BBC called “landmark protests” across the country. On Nov. 24, student organizers at Princeton led a vigil in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the Urumqi fire and in other tragedies related to China’s COVID-19 protocols.
In the petition to the Continuous Housing Committee, international students expressed their concerns about returning home.
“Going back over the winter means that we have to first quarantine for at least a week after arrival, then risk of prolonged quarantine, cross Covid infection, and being constantly locked down in our neighborhoods after returning home,” the petition reads. “In the likely circumstance, we may not even be able to return to campus in the spring if we are identified as a close contact before our departure or if our city undergoes lockdown.”
“I would love to go home if I’m able to, but the fact is I can’t right now,” Icey Ai ’25 told the ‘Prince’ in an interview.
In approving the students’ requests, the Continuous Housing Committee echoed these concerns in an email sent to Chinese international students.
“The ongoing application of the strict zero covid policy in China, as well as the expansion of COVID-19 prevention restrictions and control measures, continue to make access to and travel within China nearly impossible,” the Committee wrote.
They explained that the measures that authorities in China have enacted to ensure compliance “include residential quarantines, mass testing, closures, transportation disruptions, lockdowns, and possible family separation.”
“We understand that these measures, if in effect or instituted locally during a student’s return home over an out-of-term period, combined with the reduced availability of international flights to/from Chinese cities, would greatly impact the ability of travelers to arrive and depart within reasonable or planned times,” the Committee wrote.
Students who have not received continuous housing will lose access to their dorms beginning Dec. 26 and ending Jan. 13. For undergraduates, the University typically reserves continuous housing for students who are financially independent, living in family housing, or are unable to secure alternative housing due to financial need or “identity-based concerns.”
For one Chinese student, who spoke to the ‘Prince’ under the condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation from the Chinese government, the University’s delay in granting continuous housing created “a very stressful situation.”
“The University could have done more research in terms of policies,” they said. “In the end, [the University] made the right decision.”
They also expressed support for international students who gave them advice and pointed out resources on campus.
Bofan Ji ’24 told the ‘Prince’ how hard it would have been to find housing over the winter given that they were not allowed to return home.
“It’s extremely difficult to rent or find a short-term lease over the winter, especially now that it’s very close to the end of the semester,” Ji said.
The Continuous Housing Committee noted in the email to students that approving Chinese international students was a “one-time exception.” They specified that students must meet the outlined criteria and reapply if they wish to apply for continuous housing in future break periods.
Miriam Waldvogel is a contributing news writer for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at email@example.com or on Instagram @miriam.waldvogel.
Lia Opperman is an Assistant News Editor who often covers University affairs, student life, and local news. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Instagram @liamariaaaa, or on Twitter @oppermanlia.