News & Politics

Crisis Heroes: This AU Student Helps Find Housing for Displaced College Students

The university told them to leave campus. Abigail Morris is helping those who have to stay around Washington.

Photo courtesy of Abigail Morris.
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American University notified its students last week that they have to leave campus by March 23, and that classes would be held online for the rest of the semester. Students who are unable to return home due to “significant reasons” must submit a request and might get to stay on campus. Other universities have taken similar measures. Georgetown is requiring students to move out by March 29 and George Washington is requiring students to move out by March 21.

When AU sophomore Abigail Morris found out that American was sending most of its students home, she quickly posted on a local queer Facebook page. Her plan? To coordinate a community effort to find housing for displaced students in Washington.

The form asks for volunteers to fill out details about their home, such as Metro accessibility and languages spoken. By Monday, the next morning, more than 30 people had signed up to help, offering nearly 50 beds to students.

Morris, who lives off-campus, has been leading the backup housing effort with American alumni Gwynn Pollard and Hancie Stokes.

“Right now we are hopeful that this won’t be needed and dorms will allow students to stay,” Morris says. While it’s likely that international students who cannot return to their home countries will be able to stay in the residence halls, Morris expressed concern for students whose reasons may not be seen as “significant.”

“Maybe their hormone prescription is in DC, and if they go home they’re not going to have access to hormones. Does AU see that as a valid reason to let them stay?” Morris says. “If they go home and their parents are going to be misgendering them and … in other ways creating non-safe environments, is that going to be considered a reason to stay? Right now, we don’t know.”

The plan for now is to keep track of the number of available beds. If exemption-seeking students are unable to stay in the dorms, Morris, Pollard, and Stokes will figure out how to match students with different houses.

A friend of Morris’ moved out of her American University dorm March 12. Photo courtesy of Abigail Morris.

Those who are interested in hosting a student can fill out the form here. Housing is just one part of the larger issue; Morris hopes that more members of the community will step up to help in other ways, like by organizing food drop offs or offering ride shares to the airport.

“The kind of framework that we’re trying to build is one where everyone does a little bit because one or two or three people can’t organize an entire city, an entire anything. That’s supposed to be the government’s job,” Morris says.


Cordilia James joined Washingtonian as an editorial fellow in 2020. She was previously a digital content producer at NBCWashington. Her work has also appeared in DCist and The Telegraph. Originally from Macon, Georgia, Cordilia now lives in Chevy Chase.