The University Network

Students React To Campus Closures Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Amid growing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus, colleges and universities across the United States are upping their precautionary measures. In addition to transitioning from in-person to online classes, an increasing number of colleges and universities are now telling students to go home. 

On Tuesday (March 10), Harvard University asked students not to return to campus after spring break, which starts this weekend, and to “meet academic requirements remotely until further notice.” 

Other institutions that have asked students to stay home and out of residence halls include Cornell University, MIT, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Dayton and many more. 

Notably, some students are taking this news differently than others. 

Students at the University of Dayton took to the streets Tuesday night in reaction to hearing that university housing would close, Flyer News, the university’s student-run newspaper reported. 

What seemed to have started off as a small party, consisting of seniors who had just been informed they wouldn’t see each other for a few weeks, turned into a 1,000-person riot with students jumping on cars and police firing pepper balls at the students, according to WHIO.

“At first it was just some of our friends who are seniors all getting together and hanging out on Lowes (street) before we had to go away for about three weeks or more. And then it kind of escalated,” senior Lena Richardson told WHIO. 

Although they may be a bit upset about leaving their friends, some students are clearly excited about the idea of an extended break from campus. 

But, there are many logistical concerns attached to asking students to move out of their dorms and away from campus in the middle of a term. And, in that regard, many students and their advocates are upset. 

Financially, online classes aren’t what students paid for. And how colleges and universities are going to handle online classes and make sure they run smoothly is still largely up in the air. 

Many students living in the dorms and signed onto meal plans are still paying for those services, even though they may currently be sitting at their parents’ home. 

And if students are asked to leave campus, some will lose their on-campus jobs, making it hard for them to afford a plane ticket home or pay rent. 

“Serious question, can students get a refund on their tuition?” one California-based college student tweeted. “Some students despise online courses. It’s vastly different then what they signed up for. The fair solution would be to either postpone the whole semester or at the very least give students the option for a refund.”

Tomoro Harris, a Harvard student told journalist David Perry: “We’re basically on our own. There’s no storage, no post office on campus, nothing. When you call the financial aid office you get an automated message. My mom lives in a homeless shelter. Where do they think me and my family will get the money to ship back my stuff?”

Ohio State University student Hailey Hayes also told Perry she had concerns: “I have two on-campus jobs [that are] my sole income and I have heard nothing from either one of my bosses on how to proceed and if I can work from home. We have over 50,000 students, the university employs thousands of students. What are we supposed to do?”

How colleges can help their students

Although colleges and universities’ decisions to close down their campuses are clearly out of concern for students’ health, their actions are raising some serious problems. And at this point, schools frankly don’t have many answers. 

Temple University’s Hope Center, however, has several suggestions on how institutions can support their students, particularly those who are most susceptible to hunger and homelessness, amid coronavirus-related closures. 

If a school decides to close its dining hall, it should expand alternative options and let students know about them, the Hope Center recommends in this report

“If possible, prepare meals that they can retrieve and take home, or deliver it to them. Communicate with your campus food provider to identify food that can be recovered and used. If you have a campus food pantry, confer with your local food bank about how to take proper precautions and keep it open. Prepare bags of food that can be left for students to pick up. Employ an online chat service like Slack to allow students to communicate their needs to whomever is preparing the food.”

If a student living in the dorms has nowhere else to go, the Hope Center recommends setting up an “easy, confidential way for them to communicate with a counselor and identify alternative arrangements.” 

To help students who may need to pay their rent or buy a plane ticket home, the Hope Center recommends that colleges start an emergency aid fund. 

And for students who don’t have access to a computer or the internet at home, the Hope Center suggests that colleges offer loaner laptops with WiFi hotspots.