Harvard Students Respond to the University’s Order to Move Off Campus Over Coronavirus: 'There Are People Who Depend on Meal Plans & Housing'

This week, Harvard University announced that it would move to virtual classes following the coronavirus outbreak. This decision comes amidst several other U.S. colleges, like Columbia University, Princeton University, Stanford University, and Hofstra University switching to an online learning model. Unlike the other schools, Harvard has told students they’ll need to move out of their dorms—with only a five days allowance to relocate. This transition is supposed to be completed by March 23, which is the first day of classes following spring break.

In a statement, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, explained the university’s reasoning. “The decision to move to virtual instruction was not made lightly. The goal of these changes is to minimize the need to gather in large groups and spend prolonged time in close proximity with each other in spaces such as classrooms, dining halls, and residential buildings.” Bacow also noted that this action is consistent with the recommendations from leading health officials.

The university hopes to protect students and vulnerable members of the community from sickness. However, students have been the first to call out that not everyone has homes to return to, not everyone can afford a plane ticket for this weekend, and not everyone has internet available in their homes. 

As for campus housing refunds, Harvard has not confirmed any next steps. An FAQ on the school’s page for ongoing Coronavirus updates states that “the University is still working on the details for what will happen with student charges. Please be patient as this will take some time and the priority is getting students home safely.” 

Her Campus spoke to several Harvard students about their reaction to the university’s request. Here’s what they had to say: 

“The response the school has made to this crisis shows that the administration obviously does not care about the well being of the students, especially FGLI (first-generation, low-income) and international students. The fact that the financial aid office was not given any advance notice to the email sent this morning proves this. For the university to expect for students to be able to go home on such a short notice, find storage for all of our belongings, and attend classes on Zoom even though not everyone has access to wifi shows how inherently classist Harvard really is. I’m from Virginia, and I was planning on going home for spring break—but my flight wasn’t until after the deadline to leave so I’m trying to figure that out right now.” - Chloe Koulefianou, Harvard ‘23

“It’s very frustrating. This all came with very short notice, but a lot of people saw the writing on the wall as events were getting canceled, and emails from administration were getting progressively scarier. Harvard taking safety precautions is understandable, but it’s just so hard with such a quick turnaround because many students may not be able to afford suddenly having to go home, or home may not be a safe and accommodating environment. Also, having to leave is difficult for those who depend on on-campus jobs as a source of income for themselves (and their families in some instances). I can only imagine how seniors feel having to suddenly wrap up their time in college without even knowing for sure if they’re having a commencement ceremony. On top of all of this, there are university workers who could be out of work for the next six months. Everything is just very disorienting and so many people, events, and organizations, that I can’t even think of at the moment are affected by this. I just hope that eventually things will resolve and settle back to normal. Thankfully, I have accommodations and will be returning home.” - Gabriel, Harvard ‘21

“As a Boston resident, I am in an extremely privileged position. I’m one of the few people on this campus that can realistically move out within five days. But my peers? Not so much. There’s people who depend on Harvard’s meal plan and Harvard’s housing. There’s people, both students and workers, that depend on campus jobs that serve the population. There’s no free storage for students and flights are getting harder to come by because of all of this craziness. This was obviously not well planned and could have been done so much better.” - Lupe, Harvard ‘21

Her Campus asked Rachael Dane, Harvard’s Director of Media Relations, what resources the university is providing to students who might have difficulty relocating, especially while being expected to attend classes this week. Dane cited an email that Dean of the FAS Claudine Gay sent to faculty, encouraging them to be part of the solution for students. The email reads: “Students will be worried about the logistics of moving out, and concerned about impacted family and friends. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of the way you present your response in this situation to your students, staff, and colleagues. Your care, compassion, and sense of confidence that we can reach solutions to the challenges intrinsic in this transition are perhaps the most powerful tools we have in this moment.”

Students are also being asked to check Harvard’s dedicated page for campus coronavirus updates as the university continues to monitor the outbreak.