The week of March 9th, 2020, was a whirlwind.
Monday, March 10th was a beautiful day. Sixty-five degrees and sunny, students at Stony Brook took to the Staller Steps before heading to class. My teammates and I ran in shorts that morning, something we hadn't done since October. Life was good.
Fast forward to Friday. Hurried goodbyes. Packing up our cars. Rumors of a Manhattan lockdown. Our sports, practices, meets, season-canceled. Everything we had planned for in the next few months was suddenly taken away.
It was madness.
None of us ever expected it to get that bad. We never expected the NCAA to completely shut down or Governor Cuomo to close all SUNY schools. The thought of being sent home didn't even cross our minds. My team was still eyeing our home meet on March 21st, the first outdoor track meet of the season. I thought I still had time with some of my best friends, international seniors.
Everything changed so fast.
College students across the country were sent home and told to not return. Two, three days to pack everything and get out.
To some, this may not seem like a big deal.
To us students, it was completely jarring.
We now have to take courses online which were never meant to be online, taught by professors who can barely even turn on a computer.
We had to say goodbye to our friends, some of whom we never may see again.
Our routines and entire lives were turned completely upside-down in a matter of 24 hours. The best word to describe it was chaos. The complete loss of order. It felt like we were dreaming or perhaps in a Stephen King novel.
It was terrifying.
Not to sound short-sighted, I am well aware that these drastic measures may prove to have been wholly necessary, should the predicted spike in coronavirus deaths come. That's not the point.
This whole experience has been incredibly stressful and surreal. Life is hard, I know. Life rarely goes as planned. I can accept that.
What I cannot accept is the response of American universities.
Stony Brook has generously decided to refund students for unused housing and meal plans, a step many other universities have failed to take. However, their response, or lack thereof, to this crisis has been astonishing.
First, we were given no information whatsoever during the entire week of March 9th. Rumors were flying, but there was no official word from the university. I sat in the Stony Brook Library as I watched Governor Cuomo close all SUNY schools on live television. Not a peep from our administration.
Second, Stony Brook failed to inform students that we would not be permitted back on campus after spring break until after we had already returned home. I headed to Buffalo, an 8-hour drive. I know students who went home to Wisconsin, Michigan, California, Hawaii. We received an email a couple of days into spring break which informed us that we had two days to get back to campus, pack up our stuff, and leave for good.
Multiple other institutions, including many of the Ivy Leagues, simply told their students not to return after spring break. Pack up. Have a good summer.
I don't want to give the Ivy's too much credit, however. When Harvard and others kicked their students off-campus, international students were essentially stranded. With the dorms closed, these students were homeless and given mere days to arrange a trip home, if possible. Many worried about the statuses of their visas. Harvard sparingly granted housing to students whose home countries were subject to a level three travel ban. Harvard and many other institutions failed to accommodate students who live in hotspots, those who have relatives vulnerable to COVID-19, or low-income students who depend on the university for food and shelter.
For these students, the schools had no answers.
Universities across the country, including Stony Brook, have made no attempt to refund tuition (though Stony Brook is attempting to refund certain fees, such as athletics and student activities). We are all still paying for in-person classes but receiving an online education.
As if that weren't enough, I just received an email from campus residences. I was unable to return to campus to move my belongings due to the global pandemic. Not sure if they heard about that or not. I also have a close family member who is immunocompromised. Somehow traveling to and from one of the largest hotspots in the country and potentially carrying the virus didn't seem to be in my, or anyone else's, best interest. However, I have now been informed that due to my inability to move out during a time of statewide lockdown, I must decide if I want to pay $1000+ to have my belongings shipped or stored or if I wish to have them discarded. Oh, and my refund for unused housing doesn't take effect until I have moved my possessions, despite the fact that I am not physically there.
Are you kidding me?
So what does this tell us?
Universities don't give a crap about their students. They are merely concerned with collecting their billion-dollar endowments each year and maintaining their reputations, whatever those may entail. They can't manage to be even the slightest bit accommodating during a global crisis.
Most at fault for this are Ivy League schools and other private institutions. Somehow they cannot find the funds to alleviate even a small part of the financial burden placed on students during this crisis.
I call BS.