The Collegian
Thursday, July 09, 2020

OPINION: A perspective from a Chinese student on 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.

I am an international student from Qingdao, China. On April 3, I finally moved into a hotel near Short Pump in Richmond. As I gradually adapted to the new place, I reflected on what I have experienced so far as a Chinese student since the outbreak of COVID-19 affected the University of Richmond campus. 

On March 16, Westhampton College Dean Mia Reinoso Genoni sent an email stating that all students were required to leave campus unless they fell under either one of the following two circumstances:

“1. International students whose home country has closed its borders, and who do not have an alternate place to stay – please contact the Office of International Education at international@richmond.edu. 
“2. Any students who experience food insecurity or other similarly serious circumstances, and who do not have an alternate place to stay – please email CollegeDeans@richmond.edu.”

After I read this email, I realized that I did not qualify for any of the circumstances above. Neither did many of my Chinese friends. Many of us did not have alternative places to stay, but we did not meet other requirements, such as border closure or food insecurity. 

I immediately contacted my parents the same day UR announced this decision. Many of my Chinese friends reached out to me and asked if I wanted to book a flight back home right away. Some of them also tried to figure out places to stay for the remainder of the semester. Many did not have any experience with off-campus housing since they have lived on campus for all three or four years. 

My parents tried to assuage my disappointment about not being able to stay on campus, recommending that I express my concerns to the school first. After the call with my parents, I decided that I would stay in Richmond because it was not safe to travel overseas. I invited my friends in group chats to express concerns to the school. The night of March 16 was a total mess.

On March 18, there was an international student town hall meeting on Facebook hosted by the Office of International Education. The meeting aimed to answer questions for international students. 

During the meeting, Martha Merritt, dean of international education,  and Krittika Onsanit, director of international student and scholar services, talked about how the student visas would work when students come back in the fall. They did not talk about specific suggestions for students who wanted to remain on campus. By that same afternoon, many Chinese students received their emails that they had to leave their dorm no later than March 27.  

On the same day, the Chinese Students Scholarships Association, representing all Chinese students, emailed a letter to UR President Ronald Crutcher, Joe Boehman, the dean of Richmond College, Genoni and Merritt to express their concerns about not being able to stay on campus.

While we waited for a response from the school, more than 22 families of Chinese students also sent a joint email on March 19 to Crutcher, Boehman, Genoni and Merritt. I helped with the translation of the email. 

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In the email, parents wrote that they hoped the school allows their children to stay on campus based on four reasons:

1. There is a high risk of virus infection during long-distance travel.
2. There are limited flight tickets between the U.S. and China.
3. Distance online learning cannot be guaranteed.
“Google and other related platforms are blocked in China, making distant online learning very difficult,” according to the email. “Even though the school provides VPN for our students, we have heard from students that VPN connection is unstable in China.”
4. There is risk of travel bans between China and the U.S. in the future.

In response to these concerns, UR offered us hotel options with discounted rates, but they did not approve us to stay on campus for the rest of the semester. I understood that the school wanted to make sure that only a small number of students could remain on campus. 

However, I do not understand why many international students only got an extension for their on-campus stay, while some other international students and American students got approved to stay on campus until the end of the semester. 

I am grateful that the school has made great efforts to support its Chinese students, from extending our stay period to offering us local hotels with discounted prices. 

I am asking if the school could make more explicit what “serious circumstances” meant exactly and what exceptions were made when deciding which students were moved out of on-campus housing. Additionally, when replying to these concerns, the school administration should have been more transparent about why students were not qualified to stay for the remainder of the spring semester. Again, I appreciate that our school has taken our concerns very seriously and replied to our requests case by case. At this particular time, I feel more connected to everyone than ever. 

Thanks for taking the time and listening to our concerns. No matter where you are, I hope everyone is safe and everything is working out.

Contact features writer Bingjie Liu at bingjie.liu@richmond.edu.

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