Bridge Closures in Lee and Horan Cause Uproar Among Student Body

By, Nicole Rodriguez, Zoe DeFazio, & Christine Nappi, Production Editor, Staff Writer, Features Editor

Manhattan College students living in Lee and Horan halls will no longer have access to the eighth-floor bridge doors. This protocol was reinstated for the Fall 2021 semester, forcing students to exclusively enter and exit the building through the main lobby doors that face Broadway.

This decision to close the bridge is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus according to the Interim Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, Esmilda Abreu-Hornbostel, Ph.D.

Abreu-Hornbostel describes that the bridge closures are meant to make students feel comfortable and protected in their dorm buildings, so they would not need to wear a mask or follow other protocols on their designated floor of residence.

“We had hoped that this semester would be the beginning of the post-COVID year, but it turns out it’s not,” Abreu-Hornbostel said. “I feel like making the residence halls feel like home is important [and that] matters with the bridge because if you’re bringing people in that are not vaccinated, that are not doing the daily symptom tracker. Now you’ve made your environment go from a home-safe environment [to one that’s not]… we’re just trying to be as vigilant as possible so students can be as free as possible where they ought to be.”

Residence Life has not made an updated comment on the topic and students living in Lee and Horan are not pleased with the decision to keep the bridges closed.

A petition titled “Open the Lee and Horan Hall Bridges at Manhattan College,” was created anonymously on change. org to garner student support in an effort to reopen the bridges. An Instagram account was also created anonymously, @ openthebridge, but the owner of the account did not answer requests to speak on the topic.

The anonymous petition to reopen the bridges has received much attention, gaining 384 signatures in a four-day span, and raises concerns of foot traffic, COVID-19 precautions, ADA non-compliance, fire safety and the college’s Lasallian values.

Those who have signed the petition share similar sentiments against the bridge closures.

One student, Jonathan Deutsch, publicly commented on his reason for signing the petition because the closures are, “an unnecessary restriction that makes it harder for students to get around campus.”

Similarly, another student Mike Micek publicly commented that reopening the bridges, “would be convenient for everyone,” and the closures have been a “constant hassle.”

More importantly, for students like junior psychology major and Lee resident, Isabel Cameron, who are making their return back to campus from strictly remote learning, prior notice of the bridge closures would have influenced their living situations.

“I was completely unaware that the bridges were an issue people were trying to deal with. I wish I would have had a lot better warning or else I would have changed where I live because I’m on the seventh floor,” said Cameron. “It takes me 5-10 minutes to get an elevator in the morning sometimes and I’ve been almost late a couple of times for class because I didn’t account for that and seven flights of stairs.”

One concern that the creator of the petition had was not having enough access to enough exit points.

“According to nyc.gov not having a secondary building exit is a legitimate fire safety hazard,” wrote the creator of the petition, claiming that Lee and Horan are “ADA non-compliant.”

The creator provided a document to support the claim, which states the following:

“There must be two means of [exits] from your apartment building. Your primary or first exit is your apartment door that leads into either an unenclosed (not separated by walls and doors) stairway or through a public hallway to an enclosed stairway that leads to the street. Your secondary exit should… [lead] directly or indirectly to the street level.”

Abreu-Hornbostel indicates that the bridge is not a “fire door” or “safety access door” and that there are additional exits on the sides of the main floors in Lee and Horan. She describes Lee and Horan are fully compliant with fire safety, for having two exits and having plans, drills and safety training in place.

“We’re 100 percent compliant with all our codes,” Abreu-Hornbostel said. “If we really didn’t have access to safety, I would not be able to sleep… what I do worry about is creating false narratives around safety, when we have to be so vigilant right now… and so this is not the time for us to be just thinking about ourselves, we have to sort of be thinking about ‘hey, how can we keep the whole community alive?’.”

Although Lee and Horan are fully compliant with fire safety, students like Cameron ask for better communication from administration regarding exits in the case of emergencies.

“There’s been no explanation and rationalization of it. There’s been no explanation of contingencies in case of emergency or if you’re a student with disabilities,” said Cameron. “None of that has been clear to any of the students that live here, or at least not me or my suitemates.”

The current closure is not the first time the bridge doors have closed. Last March, the college announced it would be prohibiting bridge access in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. This is likely because the bridge doors do not have their own public safety officers supervising the traffic flow of students.

In an email on March 1, 2021, Residence Life announced that they will not be allowing visitors in the residence halls and will be closing the Lee and Horan bridges, “due to an increase in cases and the number of students who have had to quarantine.” The decision comes from the Residence Life staff “preemptively taking actions to ensure we’re providing a safe living and learning environment within the residence halls.”

Shortly after this announcement was sent, Jaspers Return documented that the positive test average for the school was a high 4.2% on March 11, 2021. Since then, the bridge doors have not been fully open, despite much of campus lifting past restrictions. One of the restrictions that has been lifted is the admittance of day and overnight guests into Residence Halls, a regulation that was initially put in place when the bridge closures were back in March.

According to Abreu-Hornbostel, closing the bridges back in March “helped tremendously” decrease the number of COVID-19 cases.

“We have an entire, at least a full semester, of referencing where we can compare inci- dent reports and circumstanc- es that arose when the bridges were just open versus when the bridges are scheduled and con- trolled for needed access.”

Abreu-Hornbostel stated that a system has been put in place to open the bridges under certain circumstances, such as if a student has a disability or injur y and will need to access the eighth-floor entrance. The bridges will additionally be open for tour groups, but all circumstantial openings will be monitored by public safety.

“We definitely want to make sure that the bridges are accessed for those who need it,” Abreu-Hornbostel said. “[The system] allows us to have public safety scheduled to be there, it allows us to monitor the ins and outs and that’s really important because if we don’t have a way to monitor, once again we’re compromising the safety of the piece we want to have in the residence halls.”

Although the bridges remain closed at the moment, Abreu-Hornbostel claims they will “absolutely” reopen again, but the time for that is undetermined. She describes that the administration doesn’t “ever want to stop access” to parts of campus, but having unsupervised spaces “doesn’t make sense” at this time, given the college doesn’t have the resources to monitor the bridge at all times.

With the creation and sharing of the petition, it is clear that students are adamant about expressing their frustrations over the bridge closures and requesting the bridges to be reopened. The petition has not made an impact on the college’s decision to reopen the bridges in the near future, so for now, students will have to use the main entrances until further notice.

Although Abreu-Hornbostel encourages students to voice their opinions, she finds that now is not the time to petition for a cause such as this. However, she finds student petitioning to be an integral part of the campus community

“Now during COVID is not the right time to be pushing for personal convenience versus community responsibility,” Abreu-Hornbostel said. “But I actually love and encourage when students come together to voice what they need because if we don’t have an environment where people can speak freely, we lose innovation. We lose opportunity, we lose a space of co-creation, [and] we want all those things. So I would say let’s talk about what’s behind the petition, and let’s work it out.”