Harvard undergraduates this week were abruptly given five days to leave campus and told to stay home until the end of the term. The order drew outrage from students who are also juggling midterm exams, senior projects and daily classes.
The announcement came as universities across the US, including Yale, Stanford, Columbia and Princeton, cancelled classes amid fears over the new coronavirus, leaving thousands of students scrambling to find their way home while their professors puzzle over how to move weeks of courses to the internet.
Harvard psychology student Silvana Gomez did not know how she would afford to get home to her family in New Jersey. She is also worried about posing a risk to her father, who is 66 and has a health condition that could make him more vulnerable to the virus.
“I have to stay on campus and if Harvard doesn’t allow me to stay on campus, then I really don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Harvard senior Nick Wyville does not know how he will take online courses at his family’s home in Alabama.
He lives in a rural area, and says the closest internet access is at the county’s only Starbucks, kilometres from his home. “We are really panicking right now, and a lot of students have anxiety,” he said.
Stores were selling out of boxes near Harvard, one of several universities including Amherst College and St John’s University that asked students to go home.
Schools nationwide have announced plans to cancel in-person classes through spring break or beyond amid fears about the virus’ spread. Some are pausing campus classes for a few days or weeks, including Columbia, Princeton and Indiana University, while others are cancelling classes through the end of the term, including Stanford and Harvard.
At Amherst College, senior Tommy Mobley said the news was met with disappointment and panic as students scrambled to move off campus while wondering whether they would ever return. “There were just hundreds of students on their phones, there were students crying. Frankly, it’s very shocking. And it’s a major change,” said Mobley, 23, from Newton, Massachusetts.
As professors scramble to prepare online lessons, some worry students will not take part in online discussions. And there are concerns about how to offer fair exams in an online setting.
At Columbia University, Vincent Racaniello expects the virus to continue spreading among students anyway.
“Students are still going to be moving around the world, they’re going to be moving around New York City, they’re going to get infected,” he said. “I think it has minimal benefit in the long run and is more disruptive than it’s worth.”
At Harvard, students were told only a number of exceptions would be made, primarily for international students who come from countries that have been hit hardest by the virus.
Second-year student Lucy Wickings is requesting to stay on campus during the closure but does not know if she will qualify. Lucy, 19, is homeless and has been saving income from three campus jobs to stay afloat over the summer. Now she fears she will have to use her savings during the closure to cover meals and for travel to stay with a classmate’s family.