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Coronavirus Pandemic: Strangers Open Homes to Students Left Stranded as Varsities Shut Campuses

Representative Image.

Representative Image.

In the past few weeks as cases of coronavirus soared in the US, several prominent varsities have moved their courses online and shut down campuses.

With the World Health Organization declaring coronavirus as a pandemic, schools and universities in the United States have been rapidly shutting down or moving classes online. As the pandemic claimed over 4,000 lives worldwide, students are facing the backlash with overseas students being rendered homeless as their campuses shut down.

This week, Amherst College moved its classes online for the rest of the semester with students being asked to vacate school grounds. It isn’t the only one. Harvard, Wesleyan University, Grinnel College, University of California, Santa Barbara, University of Michigan and many other prominent schools have shut down on-campus activities. While students can still attend online classes, the situation might get dire for students living on campus, especially overseas students who are already over-burdened with tuition costs and the costs of maintaining a residence abroad.

While college authorities have maintained that the closures were meant to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many including students, teachers and parents have criticised the measures as inconsiderate of the needs of low-income or overseas students.

On Tuesday, Harvard informed students that the campus had to be vacated within five days for the rest of the spring term. It has told students that in case they need assistance, the university can provide financial aid. But many including students and teachers at Harvard itself have been sceptical.

A Harvard student from Kenya, Tom Lee Osborn, took to Twitter to call out Harvard’s five-day notice to students to move as “crazy”.

Another Harvard student Emma Forbes told Al Jazeera that the deadline for students to move out till Sunday was unfair as it was not feasible for many. “Many people still have not yet figured out how they are going to go home or where they are going to go, because some people don’t have a home to go to,” Al Jazeera quoted her as saying.

Heartbreaking messages from Harvard students seeking help on social media also surfaced.

Another Harvard student, Alejandra Iglesias, said she and her mother are now homeless after Harvard’s call for students to move out. She has been trying to raise funds and resources for them on Twitter. “My mom and I are homeless and I no longer have my term-time job I use to support my family,” Iglesia, 21, wrote. “I’ve led the student group asking others to help first gen low income students like myself. Now I’m asking for help for me,”

Taking to the microblogging site Twitter, Leah E Gose, a resident tutor at Harvard, “begged” the university to ensure the safety and convenience of its students. “I’m asking (BEGGING) the University to support students who can’t afford extended summer storage,” Hose wrote, adding that it will “immediately add to at-home food costs” of students.

She also pointed out that students had often had no quiet place to study when universities are shut, and many not even be able to access online classes due to lack of WiFi or devices.

“Students forced to go home will put a strain on already limited SNAP benefits, for example. Some don’t have their own rooms. These concerns will impact millions of students!” she wrote, adding, “We CANNOT fail them in this”.

Yet others have been making appeals to parents of students living in the US to open their homes to overseas students or those who cannot make it back home for any reason.

“Dear Parents of college students: A lot of campuses are closing with #coronavirus and most will be closed in 2-3 weeks,” Sarah Parcak wrote on Twitter. “Please consider opening your homes and hearts to your children’s overseas friends who cannot afford to travel or take the risk with their visas”.

Another Twitter user who claimed to be a professor in the United States said that he had been teaching overseas children for about a month through online courses but felt that the teaching was not optimum through online portals.

Several parents of students too have come forth with help.

Students themselves have been getting together to raise funds for those in need. In Massachusetts Institute of Technology, students have started an online Google Doc which they are using to crowdsource funds, rooms and storage space for students having to move out at the last minute, NBC News reported.

Moving companies like U-Haul are also offering free storage for 30-days to students displaced from college to help.

Three public school teachers from Arlington, Virginia have opened a Go-Fund-Me account, ABC News reported, in order to help raise grocery gift cards to feed students. However, with more and more schools shutting down, yeh situation could get worse.

A survey, conducted by Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor from Temple University, and other researchers, found that of the 86,000 students surveyed in 2019, 45 percent reported being food insecure, as reported by Huffington Post.

Several students also told NBC that with the decision to close school grounds, everyone stands to lose as even those with homes may not be able to return to their homes or afford online courses at grade A institutes along with paying for rent and food.

(This story was originally published on March 13, 2020)

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