In Response to Potential University Shutdown over COVID-19

Update from the Editor 3/11/20, 15:54 EST: The Administration has decided to suspend the spring semester indefinitely, and move all classes to remote learning. Students can petition for an extension or to remain on campus. The all campus email can be read here, and some more info can be found here.

Update from the Editor 3/11/20, 14:32 EST: To clarify, while we did link the Change.org petition in this post, we are not in this article arguing that the University remain open and that business carry on as usual. As many have stated on twitter here and here, there are obvious risks to having the campus remain entirely open, including, but not limited to, concerns for those who are immunocompromised. We did not make the Change.org petition or have a say in how it was titled. As we have mentioned below, our intention here was to (1) raise concerns that we have, and (2) start a conversation that the administration would have to hear. We are aware that this is an incomplete list of concerns.

Update from the Editor 3/10/20, 19:58 EST: Sign the petition here! Credit goes to Martha Wedner ’22 for making it.

Update from the Editor 3/10/20, 18:12 EST: We have gotten many positive responses to this petition, and are glad that it is starting a conversation. We recognize that we are only four voices that have spoken thus far, and that in our haste to put this out there, there are certain points that we missed. Our main goal was to open a space for testimony and to encourage conversation, as we were concerned was that the University might make this decision without any student input.

In that vein,  Huzaifa Khan ’22 has reached out to us to let us know that students with concern or testimony  should email him at  hkhan[at]wesleyan[dot]edu. The WSA has a coronavirus task force that is working with the University, which means that at least some students are involved in the process. You too can be involved simply by emailing your concerns to Huzaifa, and he will do his best to voice as many concerns as possible at the meeting. Apparently, the decision is  likely to be made tomorrow (3/11/20), so voicing your opinion asap is critical.

Just now, the State of Connecticut announced a state of emergency over coronavirus. This morning, Amherst College, a fellow NESCAC, temporarily suspended classes and asked students to move out by the end of their spring break. This afternoon, Middlebury College and Harvard University followed suit. We’re now hearing (through word of mouth) that there is discussion to announce a suspension at Yale later today, Trinity will potentially declare tomorrow, and University of Connecticut is convening discussions as we write this. Notably, none of these schools have any confirmed cases of the coronavirus on their campuses, amongst students or otherwise.

As we see each school escalating the degree to which they are responding to the outbreak and limiting normal functioning at their respective institutions, we cannot help but wonder exactly how this will work, and what the real effect on students will be. Thus far, we have not heard that students are being consulted on how to address COVID-19. While Wesleyan has placed recommended travel restrictions on students and faculty, among other preventative measures, there has been no concrete information from the school except for what we are hearing from friends of friends and over text regarding the potential suspension.

We do not deny that the coronavirus outbreak is a serious public health issue, and we hope that all of those who are affected are receiving proper treatment and care. However, we cannot allow the University to make such a serious decision as suspending classes for the semester without student consultation and without our concerns taken into account. Below, we have listed a series of concerns that we have, and ask that they be addressed as we move forward.

Student concerns regarding a potential shut down:

  • First and foremost, we note that there has been  no student input thus far, at least as far as the wider student population knows. This does not bode well for making a decision with students’ best interests in mind.
  • Making decisions solely based on the actions of peer institutions (such as Amherst, Middlebury, Harvard, etc) is irresponsible; many of those institutions have not indicated that they are making their decision based on consultations with health officials or governing bodies such as the CDC. There is no reason to believe that these decisions are not being made in panic, which is irresponsible and uninformed.
  • The CDC has not suggested that schools should be shut down.
    • They are saying to plan for people to make the decision to not come back (absenteeism), but not requiring or suggesting that schools shut down
    • They are saying to disseminate information on the virus and how students, faculty, and staff work to prevent the spread
  • State universities in states that have so far declared states of emergency have not reacted by cancelling school
    • Universities far larger than Wesleyan who actually would have no way of completely controlling the spread of the disease have not taken measures beyond transitioning to online classes
  • There is no reason to believe that students would not be safer quarantined in a space with other young people that thus far have not seen any cases of the virus
  • As a population, we are less at risk than other demographics (older populations, etc), and Wesleyan requiring students to leave would in many cases mean students must go to more high risk spaces
  • Requiring students to live on campus and then revoking it is an unfair violation of our housing contracts
    • If Students will be forced to leave campus, the university should have to cover expenses
      • Housing
      • Flights
      • Food
      • Compensation for the lower market value of online schooling
    • It should be considered that not all students have a safe place to return to, and depend on their agreement with Wesleyan that they can stay on campus. Wesleyan requires students to live on campus;  requiring students to leave can and should be understood as eviction. It is not realistic to expect that all students can find safe, adequate, affordable housing in a short time frame.
  • If the University suspends the semester and students are able to petition to remain on campus (as Amherst did), how will the University judge the criteria by which students are allowed to stay?
    • What if students’ parents live near-by but they don’t have space or the resources to house their kids during the semester?
    • What if students cannot stay with their families due to personal issues?
  • Note from the editor 3/10 18:23 EST: The following point was left off of the original letter: If the University shuts down the campus, it will have a gross negative impact low income students who depend on on-campus jobs in order to sustain themselves and, often, pay for tuition. It must be noted that this impact will not be felt equally amongst all students.
  • The University is thus far not a high risk area; arguably, many students on this campus are from high risk areas (NY, SF, Washington, Abroad). How can the University justify making students leave knowing that they will be sending students to higher risk areas? Where will international students go?
    • Clearly, a decision to prevent students from returning to campus would be an attempt to save its own resources and protect its own image, and not out of the concern for the wellbeing of its student, faculty, and staff population.

Signed,
Saadia Naeem ’20
Iman Sigman ’20
Rebecca Greenberg ’20
Elliot Witdorchic ’20

In the interest of increased student input, and to sign this petition, comment below, tweet at us at @Wesleying, or email us at  staff[at]wesleying[dot]org.