In the wake of the University’s suspension of in-person classes due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), uncertainty has swept through the community, most saliently to those who are impacted by travel bans, housing insecurity, and other extenuating circumstances. On March 12, Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley sent out an email that offered some insight into the process that would allow students to petition to remain on campus for the remainder of the semester. Students who wanted or needed to stay on campus were required to fill out this petition, detailing the reasons why they should be able to do so. All petitions were reviewed by a Student Affairs Committee, composed of class deans and other University offices, and all decisions were made on a rolling basis.
According to Whaley, the school received more than 900 petitions from students requesting to stay on campus. Of those 900 petitions, about half were approved.
Whaley explained that the petitions were reviewed by four different committees—Academic Affairs, the Office of International Student Affairs, class deans, and the Office of Residential Life (ResLife)—depending on the reason for the request. Each committee was tasked with a different petition. For instance, Academic Affairs reviewed petitions in consultation with relevant faculty members, when the students’ reason for requesting to stay on campus was related to academics. Petitions from international students who were unable to go home because of travel restrictions or other issues were reviewed by the Office of International Student Affairs. Petitions from students with housing insecurity or other extenuating circumstances were reviewed by the class deans, and requests to move belongings later this semester were reviewed by ResLife.
These petitions have allowed a number of students to stay on campus, but the requirements for a successful petition were not clear, leaving some students perplexed as to why their petitions were denied. Claire Glickman ’21 is one of those students whose petition was shot down for opaque reasons.
“I was away for spring break, and I applied for the petition when I got back,” Glickman wrote in an email to The Argus. “I am a lab manager of one of the neuroscience/psychology labs on campus, and it was pretty unclear how that was going to be run during this, and because we work with live specimens, I wanted to at least volunteer to stay to ensure that they had the proper care they need. We do have Animal Care Services on campus, but I assumed that they would be really busy.”
The school didn’t get back to Glickman for four days, leaving her unsure of her travel plans. Ultimately, her petition was denied.
“The email I received from the school sounded more like they thought I was a researcher rather than an administrative figure…,” Glickman wrote. “I am living at home in Los Angeles with my parents. I am luckily still getting paid, because I am work-study, which I am very grateful for. Also, the animals are being well taken care of by our Ph.D. student, but at the same time, her job is to do science, which I’m not sure if she is still doing. It felt like my responsibility to take care of the animals, but unfortunately I didn’t get a choice.”
As some students’ petitions continued to be rejected, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) made an appeals system to advocate for more students to stay on campus. The WSA has also tried to alleviate challenges students faced as a result of their denial by pledging $100,000 to the independently organized First-Generation Low-Income (FGLI) Wesleyan student GoFundMe and by creating a new $80,000 WSA Supplementary Emergency Fund (WSASEF).
“Something that we did was create a Google form that allowed students to explain their situations if they got denied to stay on campus,” Emily McEvoy ’22, the Community Committee Chair on the WSA, wrote in an email to The Argus. “This allowed WSA to act as somewhat of a middleman in forwarding ‘appeals’ to the Deans, given that communicating with them directly can be an intimidating experience. We encouraged the deans to consider that many folks who got approved to stay on campus actually ended up leaving, and to compare those numbers.”
One major concern was ensuring that students who were housing insecure would still be able to stay on campus. Whaley noted that housing insecurity was one of the primary reasons students could stay on campus, but it is unclear if everyone who indicated housing insecurity on their petitions were approved.
“Out of the 12 petitions we received (meaning these students initially got denied), one person indicated that they would be rendered ‘housing insecure’ if Wesleyan was to deny them housing, and one person indicated that home would be an ‘unsafe’ environment for them,” McEvoy wrote. “Many of the other petitions had to do with lack of safety in their home locations with COVID-19, small spaces, or difficulty traveling. There were only those two that indicated explicitly insecure situations related to housing.”
McEvoy notes that those two students never followed up after those petitions were sent over, and she is hoping that for that reason, those two students had been approved.
Some initially thought they would need to rely on Welseyan’s housing but opted for different living arrangements. Natalia Buckley ’20, who is from Poland, explained that she petitioned to stay on campus because she wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to get home; however, she eventually chose to stay with a friend instead.
“My petition to stay got approved, but I ended up not staying at Wesleyan…,” Buckley said, “My friend’s offer to stay with her sounded like a much better option than staying at Wesleyan…. Also, this way I could get the housing refund.”
According to Whaley, of the 240 students remaining on campus, 180 are international students.
“In general, I would say that domestic students especially needed to work to prove immense need in order for their petition to stay to be approved,” McEvoy wrote. “Understandably, more leniency was granted to international students. In many cases, domestic students with insecure housing situations needed to endure the appeals process after being denied the first time. We are unsure what factors exactly indicated lack of ‘definite’ need, in the eyes of the deans.”
McEvoy also highlighted that some students saw a positive response from their appealed case.
“Some students reported positive responses after we forwarded their appealed cases,” McEvoy wrote. “Another resource that helped students a ton in this process was advocacy from faculty and staff on students’ behalf. For instance, Cecilia Miller, the Chair of the College of Social Studies, advocated tirelessly for her students to be able to stay in an environment that would be conducive to their education.”
Even students who did not go through the appeals process struggled with the uncertainty of their living situation while the petitions were reviewed.
“I think I submitted my petition by the second day that it was released, if I’m not mistaken, which delayed my decision compared to my other peers who filled it out immediately.” Elizabeth Ouanemalay ’23 wrote in an email to The Argus. “After weighing the options between food and housing security versus income very heavily, I had to choose to stay on campus. The money from the RCF [Residential Comprehensive Fee] refund was definitely not sustainable for my survival during a time like this.”
However, for those students who remain on campus, there are still some challenges that have been brought to the table, one being relocation.
According to Director of ResLife Fran Koerting only four residence halls remain open during this time: Clark, Bennet, the Butterfields, and 200 Church. Three program houses also remain open: Malcolm X House, International House, and Japanese House.
While this saves many resources, both financial and environmental, Ouanemalay commented that the closer quarters add to the pressure of staying on campus.
“It’s been…stressful in the sense that some students still do not really practice social distancing,” Ouanemalay wrote.
Students living in other residences were relocated to buildings, but for seniors living in wood-frame houses, the relocation process proved to be slightly more difficult.
“Seniors in houses where two or more residents were approved to stay remained in their assigned units,” Koerting wrote in an email to The Argus. “Those who are in houses by themselves were asked to either pair up with someone else who was alone in their house, or were given a relocation assignment.”
“Although some students were allowed to stay in the residences where they were previously residing, many have been relocated to maximize personal safety while respecting advice to implement social distancing,” Whaley added.
Hanson Hairihan ’22, a student from Beijing, was instructed by the school to move from his room in Lotus House to Butterfield C.
“There would be a huge waste of energy and resources if they let me stay in Lotus house alone for the rest of the semester,” Hairihan wrote. “But I don’t quite understand how this policy can benefit the school’s control of the situation. I do think gathering people in the same residential halls will increase the chance of spreading coronavirus since we are not able to strictly self-quarantine.”
Erin Hussey ’20 was also instructed to move out of her senior wood frame.
“When I was approved, there was a lot of uncertainty as to what would happen with housing,” Hussey wrote in an email to The Argus. “I wrote to ResLife, and they informed me that I would have to move because I was the only person remaining in my wood frame. I am fortunate enough to have a good friend that is also on campus for the remainder of the semester, so we moved in together.”
Additionally, dining and student life has also been different for students remaining on campus as well.
“Overall, it’s been interesting,” Ouanemalay wrote. “Dining is done to-go with limited hours. There are some complaints about food from other students, but personally, considering everything that is happening, I think the options provided are pretty good. I would also say that the environment has been pretty quiet for the most part, but I personally like this type of environment, so it hasn’t been too bad. Classes, WSA, and other personal obligations keep me pretty busy, and if I ever feel lonely, I can always do a video call. It’s not quite the same, but it’s a great alternative to physical socializing!”
Though life on campus may look a little bit different now, many students highlighted that the University was adjusting accordingly, and trying their best to help students.
“The Usdan staff have been the warmest, kindest, most supportive presence the student body ever could have asked for,” Elodie Frey ’22 wrote in an email to The Argus. “They are incredibly kind and welcoming, and have filled in for the families we are all far away from. They are truly wonderful and deserve all the celebration in the world.”
“This is a tough time for everyone, including the school staff,” Hairihan wrote. “I can’t speak for others, but for me, Wesleyan is making it work as well as possible. I have never had so many Mongolian grills in the past two years. Early last week the school put me in contact with a university staff who is also a Wes alum to help me navigate these overwhelming weeks. I also want to give a shout-out to WSA senators who have been working hard to make sure students’ concerns are heard and responded to by the school. All these efforts have been tremendously important to our well-being on campus.”
According to Whaley, there was no maximum number of students that would have been allowed to stay.
“No maximum was established, but we obviously wanted as many students as possible to leave campus to protect the health and safety of those unable to do so,” Whaley wrote.
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