Why I’m Just So Worried About Our Students…

...And What We Need to Do for Them As They Face COVID-19

This week, more than 40 universities have announced their intent to suspend face-to-face course work and send students home to limit the spread of COVID-19 among the student population. My own university’s Board of Regents has asked our universities to prepare for the transition to online instruction as quickly as possible and our university’s hospital has admitted its first COVID-19 patient, who is in critical condition. I’ve been told we will make a decision by 8 am tomorrow.

That’s the house I lived in during high school. My brothers and I slept on a twin mattress in the back room.

Harvard announced that it would be sending students home and gave them five days to leave campus. Five days to leave their homes. I have a lot of feels about this as a professor and a mother, but also as a first-generation college student myself.

If I were in their position, I am not sure what I would have done. Nit every student has a secure family environment at home to return to. Personally, I likely would have moved back in with my father, but it would have been financially devastating. Some of our students are facing challenges beyond their coursework. As a younger woman, I found myself temporarily homeless. My family has been on food stamps and there is still financial instability in my immediate family. I still frequently feel emotions tied to food insecurity even though it has not been an issue for me for more than twenty years. My forty-year-old self lives in a way to be able to absorb potential emergencies without putting my home and ability to eat in danger, but my twenty-year-old self would have in real trouble. Here are some of the challenges our students are currently facing that we need to consider as universities and faculty…

I’ve been listening to students talk outside of my office all morning. They are very worried that they will not graduate if classes are canceled or moved to online modes. I just assured two students on my way to the bathroom that they will graduate. I will confess though, I am not sure what to do about my lab students if they are sent home. No doubt, we’ll figure something out and we will not derail their academic progress, but it will impact them.

Some of our students have immigration considerations. F-1 student visas require face-to-face coursework and moving to an online format may put these students in violation of immigration law. Some of them are from countries that are not safe to return to.

Some of our students rely on their dorm and food plan for secure shelter and predictable meals. They may have already spent their food budget on these plans and not know how they will afford to eat for the rest of the semester.

Some of these students are using work-study to pay for tuition, food, and housing. It’s not clear how these students will be impacted by not having this income.

Some students have signed leases for apartments. Some of them have belongings in their dorm rooms. They may not have the resources right now to break a lease, continue to pay a lease, or move their belongings.

As professors, we can be sensitive to our students’ needs and do our best to help them personally. If there are any students at my institution who worry about food, I want them to come to talk to me. I can try to help them find resources. I’ve talked to my graduate students who are also TAs to try to help them address current student fears, based on the guidance I have from my university. But, at the university level, we have to be thoughtful about what is going to happen to these students and continue to ask for support from our major stakeholders (the state, investors, etc.).

It’s not enough just to “send these students home.” We often use language of community at universities and part of being a community is looking out for each other. We’ve got a responsibility to look out for them.

Isis the Scientist

Professor, physiologist, mother of the iKids, stepmom to the Strange Tots, Strange’s wife, Iowan, bikes, shoes, debt-free zealot, post-stomach. Old crone of a blogger who just never learns. Not even close to affiliated with my employer.

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