The Collegian
Thursday, July 09, 2020

OPINION: UR Has Complicated Student Anxiety About COVID-19

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

Last week, I left campus with a vague notion that novel coronavirus COVID-19 was a global concern. Most of us left campus with little beyond what we needed for spring break, leaving textbooks, binders and other relevant course materials in our dorms and apartments. Some students, such as my roommate Julian Scott, a senior, remained on campus to avoid the spread of coronavirus in their home states. None of us could have imagined the massive cascading responses of businesses, universities and governments over the next few days. 

I went home to sunny, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina with nothing beyond my laptop and cell phone, leaving most of my clothing and all of my school supplies behind. My other senior roommate, Dylan Mizouni, and I spent the first half of the break anxiously worrying about what the University of Richmond would do about the virus and then, following Wednesday evening’s announcement, worrying about how we would adjust our plans. 

I do not blame UR for taking this threat seriously. As someone who has elderly and immunocompromised loved ones, I understand quite well how dangerous coronavirus could be. My restaurant-loving octogenarian grandparents just announced to the family that they would not leave the house for the foreseeable future and that any incoming houseguests would have to make other arrangements. The virus must be taken gravely seriously, and I do not begrudge our administration for choosing to move toward remote learning. 

However, it is clear that some of UR’s actions (or lack thereof) have made certain members of the student body more anxious about the coming crisis. 

In President Ronald A. Crutcher’s initial announcement on March 11, he wrote that students should not return and that those on campus should return home. He went on to state that all students whose petitions were not approved by Friday, just two days later, would have only a short window to make travel arrangements home. 

Students who remained on campus were, in many cases, students who could not afford to return home for break or students who live a great distance away. Students had just two days’ notice and no recourse beyond filing a petition which allowed for exceptions in only “extremely limited” circumstances, according to the same email from Crutcher on March 11. UR and many other institutions have placed massive undue financial stress on their students and, potentially, put them at greater risk of exposure to the virus than they would be on campus. 

Importantly, many students also live with parents or grandparents who, because of their advanced age, are at greater risk of severe illness if exposed to the virus than students would be on campus. Students who had to use airports and train stations to return home also face significantly greater risk of exposure to the virus, community spread and the infection of their more vulnerable relatives and loved ones. Crutcher’s most recent email, which moved classes online for the remainder of the semester, may aggravate this risk by having students travel once more to retrieve our belongings between April 13 and May 10. By postponing this action, UR could increase the risk of exposure for students if the virus expands further. 

Beyond this potential physical danger, UR has compounded the economic anxiety many families and students will face in the coming weeks. The stock market has been on a steep decline for the past week. Announced closures of restaurants and businesses amid the virus have kneecapped the economic capacity of many students and their families. Although many students come from well-off families, those of us who come from families in the service, food and beverage or housing industries may see serious declines in household income and financial security in the coming months. Even if the students themselves do not have to worry about these things, parents of all income brackets will certainly become more economically anxious as this crisis marches on. 

UR has compounded this anxiety by giving students a very short period of time (just eight hours last Saturday and Sunday) to return to campus for their belongings, potentially costing students and their families thousands to return for necessary personal items like eyeglasses, medication, contact lenses, computers, and academic materials like textbooks, notebooks and binders. Even students who chose not to return will be put under financial stress due to last-minute bookings to their homes after a spring break trip instead of returning to UR as planned. 

I purchased four full tanks of gas for my car to drive to and from UR to pick up essential belongings and now must return once more to pick up those possessions which did not fit in my car during this weekend’s trip. Despite this inconvenience, I know that my cost of just under $300 for both trips is significantly lower than many of our fellow Spiders who must secure hotel rooms and flights to travel to and from UR.  

My roommate Dylan and his family just spent thousands of dollars on last-minute flights and other associated travel fees to get him back home to Dallas Monday afternoon, and discovered that night that they will have to return to pick up the rest of his belongings. 

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Vice President of Student Development Steve Bisese’s email on March 18 has given some clarity on this issue. However, as I, and many other students, will not be able to pick up our items for over a month, this schedule could put financial strain on our families in both travel costs and the financial cost of replacing any items not deemed essential for the interim period. 

Lastly, and potentially most importantly, students who return home will cost their families additional money in terms of food, water and electricity, which, by paying for housing and meal plans at UR, they had previously taken care of. As someone who receives significant financial aid and scholarship money from the school, even the small amount my family and I paid for this semester was intended to cover my room and board, which my father and I must now cover because of my return home. Some schools, like Virginia Tech, have offered rebates on housing and food costs. Such measures would be more than appropriate in this situation.

In his email on March 16, President Crutcher announced that “the University will determine the most appropriate and expedient ways to process prorated adjustments for room and board expenses, as those fees assumed students would remain in residence for the remainder of the semester.” It shows great generosity on behalf of President Crutcher and the administration to support Spider families in this way. 

Beyond that, it is simply fair. By paying room and board, we paid for a service which, due to unprecedented circumstances, will not be provided to its fullest extent. UR owes its students some kind of financial adjustment for these services not rendered and, to demonstrate the generous spirit of this community, they must offer some form of aid for families who have spent time and money to travel to and from their homes to retrieve their belongings.  

As a final word, I wish to express my deep sadness that the spread of the coronavirus has prevented me and my colleagues in the Class of 2020 from participating in Commencement on the scheduled date of May 10, returning to the campus we love, and spending our last months with the friends we have made over the past four years. I hope you keep the senior class in your thoughts in the weeks to come.

Contact contributor Jackson Puckey at jackson.puckey@richmond.edu.

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