President Michael Roth ’78 spoke with international students about how the University’s international student community might be affected by reopening campus in the fall in a Zoom forum on Friday, May 1. Roth also discussed the University’s plan to provide food and housing for international students on need-based financial aid who stay on campus over the summer.
Roth said the University expects to open residentially in the fall but will make a definitive decision in early July. However, he acknowledged that not all international students may be able to attend the fall semester in person.
“We all realize that this is a stressful time, a time of intense planning, and a time when international students have a harder time, perhaps than any other group of students in planning because of the uncertainties that are compounded by being visitors from other countries to the United States,” Roth said.
Roth expects that a number of changes will occur if campus is reopened in the fall and said the University is planning for students who cannot return in person at the start of the semester.
“Our highest priority [is] to open the campus if it’s safe to do so in the fall,” Roth said. “It will require some change in behavior—no large gatherings, large classes will be broken up, I assume into small sections, much more intensive cleaning of all communal surfaces. There will be students who—say, maybe some international students—who can’t get here for the fall semester or get here on time for the fall semester, and what we hope to make possible for those students is that they can follow along in classes remotely, even for a portion or the entire semester.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley explained that the University expects to have online learning be a part of the fall semester even if campus is reopened.
“Academic Affairs is working with faculty to make sure there is a strong online component to classes next fall, even if we are able to resume our residential experience,” Whaley wrote in an email to The Argus. “We anticipate that some students (including some international students, students who are immunocompromised, students who fall ill during the term, etc.) will need to access course content online.”
Roth also said the University would need to test all students for COVID-19 upon their arrival to campus and expects to test people again throughout the semester if they require a test. Recommendations given to Governor Ned Lamont by the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group for a phased reopening of Connecticut’s colleges and universities require that residential institutions have the capacity to test students upon arrival and isolate students who test positive in order to reopen in the fall.
As of now, the University does not have details on how it expects to reach that testing capacity.
“Indeed, affordable and reliable testing is not yet widely available in our area,” Whaley wrote. “President Roth hopes that such testing will be available this summer such that students/faculty/staff can be tested before the semester begins and then periodically thereafter.”
The University is also working to find options for students who need to self-isolate in the fall.
“We do not yet know what policies and best practices will be in place for the fall semester,” Whaley wrote. “We are planning options for supportive isolation/quarantine for students who may become ill if we are able to convene in person for the fall semester. We expect to use some locations on campus for this purpose if they are available. We are also investigating the use of local hotels for this purpose.”
Over the summer, the University will provide food and housing for international students who received need-based financial aid and remain on campus.
“We want to make sure, especially for students staying with us this summer on institutional need-based financial aid, that we will cover your housing and your food costs for this summer,” Whaley said during the forum.
Details about how the University will provide these services to international students on campus are still being worked out.
“We will provide food or stipends for food to our international students who are on campus over the summer,” Roth said. “Depending on the numbers—and the interest of the students themselves—that will dictate how best to do that, whether it’s at Usdan or Summerfields or some combination of things.”
During the forum, Roth also said the University intends to increase the support for international students offered through the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA). Currently, Director of International Student Services Chia-Ying Pan is the only full-time staff member at the OISA.
“We expect to have more support in that office over time,” Roth said. “And I do want to dispel this idea that that’s the only support we have for international students. Obviously international students are making use of all aspects of the University and the support that’s available to all students. And there are specific needs, of course, that students have, and we are getting more help in that area, and we expect that the needs won’t decrease in that area, and so we will continue to add support.”
According to Whaley, the creation of a new OISA position—a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Coordinator—has been approved despite the University’s non-faculty hiring freeze. The University intends to fill this position over the summer.
In the meantime, the University has also hired two part-time consultants from the University of Connecticut’s International Student Office to support Pan until the SEVIS Coordinator position is filled.
“The new position for the Office of International Student Services is one of the critical positions that has been approved for hiring to move forward despite the hiring freeze—this is because the need is so critical in this area,” Whaley wrote.
Claire Isenegger contributed reporting.
Jiyu Shin can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jiyu_shin.