Right in the middle of the semester, when students would prepare to start stressing about passing their finals or preparing to graduate, they have been informed that all of their classes will now be delivered online. This measure has been adopted by many campuses to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But now, students suddenly have to learn how to navigate an entirely new format for their content, on top of securing housing on their own. College and university campuses are closing their housing and placing all their classes online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but at the detriment of their students.
Many universities and colleges have issued that students can stay on campus if they have extenuating circumstances, but on every website, there is a lack of description as to what these are exactly. Students at the University of Dayton were given less than 24 hours to leave their housing when administrators decided to close their housing. Harvard University states on its website that students are asked not to return to campus after Spring Break. They also say that they want to help their students have a safe and secure place to live. But for students who fit into the “extenuating circumstances” category, they are warned that they should be prepared to continue their education online. They were also told that they "must prepare for severely limited on-campus activities and interactions.” This makes students who choose to stay sound like they will be prisoners in their dorms.
I’m fortunate to live with my parents. As a college student in her senior year, I’m quite stressed (and I’m sure our professors are as well) about switching delivery format for classes in the middle of the year. But this pales in comparison to those who have to move on top of this.
It’s as though the university and college system assumes that all students live in wealthy middle-class situations with well-balanced family dynamics. This is a logical fallacy. And since websites fail to specify what these circumstances are, how are students supposed to know what constitutes “extenuating circumstances?” Students could be returning to abusive situations, situations with domestic violence or moving back into poverty. All three of these could increase a student’s risk to contract the virus and bring them poor physical and mental health. This could also mean that students would be without access to proper healthcare, lack of access to consistent internet or a reliable computer. Many college and university systems are also saying that they won’t be issuing returns, as it often goes into “auxiliary funds.” According to CNBC, students are still probably going to be paying for services that they aren’t going to use.
UNC Charlotte is definitely attempting to be transparent with their students. They state on their website, “The UNC System has indicated that decisions about refunds for housing and dining fees, which are in their discretion, will be postponed until at least April or until we are beyond the imminent issues facing us with mitigating the spread of the virus.” They recently set up a fund where students can apply for financial assistance if they are facing hardships as a result of COVID-19. The University has attempted to be as transparent with their students as possible, keeping them informed about meetings and possible decisions, so they don’t feel as if things are coming out of the left field. It’s clear that they want their students to feel like the university cares about their mental and physical health. They are still allowing the Student Health Center to remain open and the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services to run online for students. These options still give students the resources to receive treatment for illness and someone to turn to in the face of this anxious time.
The lack of preparedness from campuses across the United States is clear, and students may feel the frustration in the face of this unprecedented pandemic. I think it’s important for colleges and universities to be incredibly transparent with their students. And I feel they need more specification about what constitutes extenuating circumstances or include a link to a form on their website that gives clear and direct information. I think that colleges and universities need to consider the option to reimburse students for the unused portion of their housing costs, meal plans, parking and other fees not related to classes or majors. And although students weren’t prepared for their in-person instruction to go online, I think this was the best course of action to prevent the spread of the virus. But I feel administrators should be doing more legwork to openly give students options, like renting/borrowing laptops, so they still have the best chance for success. Hopefully, as things progress, colleges and universities begin to work out the flaws in their emergency planning and offer more support to students. But in the meantime, students are left to face the music.