Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 2, 2020

University requires residential students to leave campus due to COVID-19

By RUDY MALCOM | March 14, 2020

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COURTESY OF RUDY MALCOM

Residential students reflect on the impact of the University’s request that they leave campus by 5 p.m. on Sunday.

All residential students must leave campus by 5 p.m. on March 15. Vice Provost for Student Affairs Alanna Shanahan emailed all students who live in University housing by Friday instructing them to vacate residential buildings. The email stated that there would be certain exceptions for those “who cannot return home due to international travel restrictions, financial hardship or other extraordinary circumstances.” 

The announcement, sent through the Housing Office, follows the University’s announcement on Tuesday, March 10 that Hopkins will be suspending in-person classes through at least April 12 due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. 

For the time they are not on campus, Shanahan wrote, students will be credited for their housing and dining costs.

“We are taking these steps after consulting with experts in public health and infectious disease who advised us to significantly reduce the number of students residing on campus in highly concentrated living, dining and studying quarters,” Shanahan wrote. 

Initially, when University President Ronald J. Daniels announced the suspension of in-person classes on Tuesday, he had encouraged students who live in University housing not to return to campus immediately after spring break. He had also told students who planned to reside in University housing between spring break and April 12 to register with Student Affairs.

Sophomore Marcus Breed stated that he understood the reasoning behind this decision. However, he criticized the University for giving underclassmen too little notice before their required departure. 

“The way they handled the school closing down was the best that they could, which was putting it on the Hub first and then sending out an email. It could’ve been handled better, but it gets a pass,” he said. “But the way they handled student housing was just kind of ridiculous. They gave us two days to get out.”

Breed said that he had seen a message in the Homewood Apartments group chat around 11 p.m. on the night of Thursday, March 12 that seemed to show that students were being instructed to leave campus. This message, he said, contained screenshots of an email that no one else seemingly had.

“No one was really sure if it was real or not for about half an hour, so I contacted my parents, and then they received an email saying the same information around midnight,” he said. “There was a lot of sketchy information coming out when they first canceled classes on Tuesday. Some of it was real; some of it was fake. I was worried that the same thing was happening here.”

Senior Min Jung Kim, a resident assistant (RA) in Bradford Apartments, echoed Breed’s sentiments in an email to The News-Letter on March 14. A Canadian citizen, Kim stated that she was advised on March 12 by the Office of International Services not to leave the U.S. That night, like Breed, she was told to leave campus.

“After some communication with the other RAs, I found out that no one else in ResLife had gotten the eviction email,” she wrote. “Most of the residents didn’t receive the email either, so some people wondered if it was a scam or fake. There was a lot of confusion and chaos… Most residents ended up getting the email this morning instead of last night.”

Indeed, Breed first received an email from the University instructing him to leave campus on Friday morning.

Freshman Juneau Wang questioned the timeline in which administrators conveyed this information.

“They contacted parents before contacting students. A lot of people are finding out about this literally from memes on the meme page before they’re hearing about it from the administration,” they said. “I don’t get why the University wouldn’t just tell us from the get-go to vacate and instead give people this false sense of hope and security.”

However, Assistant Vice President of External Relations Karen Lancaster for the Office of Communications claimed in an email to The News-Letter that the email was sent late on the evening of March 12 to all students residing in University housing, as well as their parents. 

“We believe it’s important to keep parents informed of our response to this public health crisis,” Lancaster wrote. “The COVID-19 situation has prompted thousands of institutions around the globe — Johns Hopkins no exception — to make well-informed but often fast and difficult decisions to best protect their communities.”

She added that students could get approval to remain on campus based on “housing or food insecurity or an otherwise precarious living situation,” “financial barrier to travel home or leave campus,” “immigration, travel and/or visa restrictions,” if their “home is an area currently designated a Level 3 Warning for COVID-19” or “other.”

On Friday morning, Breed selected “other” while completing an online form included within the email, explaining that his mother, a survivor of cancer, suffers from the autoimmune disease lupus and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.

“She’s severely immunocompromised and can’t go outside, so my family decided during the day on Thursday that I wasn’t going back home for spring break. We canceled my flights,” he said. “Then we got the information that night saying, ‘You have to get out.’”

Just before 5 p.m. on Friday, a case manager in the Office of Student Outreach & Support (SOS) denied his request via email, telling Breed to “practice social distancing while in [his] home state.”

Luckily, Breed said, he will be staying in the apartment of a friend leaving campus for a month.

“If I didn’t have any upperclassmen friends,” he said, “I wouldn’t know where to go.” 

Like Breed, Kim also requested an exception, citing concerns about travel restrictions and her visa status. Her request, on the other hand, was accepted. 

Nonetheless, she voiced apprehensions about the nature of developments related to COVID-19 at Hopkins.

“The departments aren’t talking to each other,” she wrote. “We’re getting crazy emails every hour, and everything is escalating so fast. Decisions made one hour don’t apply anymore the next hour… I’ve been preparing for the worst case scenario, like basically becoming homeless, but a lot of people are willing to help if something happens, which is great.”

In an email to The News-Letter, junior Bonnie Jin explained that she organized the Baltimore Mutual Aid Spreadsheet on Thursday to help provide resources such as food, housing, transport, storage and emotional support to members of the Baltimore community. The document also highlights relevant University resources, including a link to request financial aid reconsideration because of COVID-19.

“The goal… is to ensure that the most vulnerable people at Hopkins and the Baltimore area don’t fall through the cracks during this crisis,” she wrote. “The primary concern are those people who don’t have the means to buy a plane ticket for home in two days, or have certain circumstances back home (e.g. an unsafe environment, a household that doesn’t accept their identity) that make it virtually impossible for them to just ‘go home’ as the University has requested.”

Jin was inspired by the work of students at Middlebury College and the University of Michigan to support individuals after those institutions closed. 

She emphasized the need for communities to unite amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I had a personal xenophobic encounter here in Baltimore — some passengers pointing at me and ‘jokingly’ asking if there was coronavirus on the bus — just last week,” she wrote. “Despite these incidents, I still hope that people will help each other.”

Kim said that she has felt supported by her friends. Students in University housing are only permitted to access their own residence halls; however, her friends had planned to help move out her belongings because she is traveling to New Orleans over spring break and worries that online classes will be extended through the rest of the semester. ResLife has been encouraging students to pack their belongings in boxes in the event of this happening. 

“People are mostly concerned about their belongings,” Kim wrote. “Most people are assuming that the dorms aren’t going to reopen.”

Vice Provost for Student Affairs Alanna Shanahan noted in her email that students who leave “important items” in their residence hall contacts may contact Housing Operations through April 12 to retrieve them. 

Additionally, she advised students for whom leaving campus is a financial obstacle to reach out to Student Financial Services. She also recommended that students with concerns or barriers to their safe departure reach out to SOS.

Shanahan also informed students who are allowed to remain on campus that they may be relocated if their rooms need to be used by the University to manage COVID-19. 

Freshman Juneau Wang, who lives in Maryland, has consequently moved out all of their belongings.

“The general consensus among the student body is that we should clear everything out and be ready in the circumstance that they might have to utilize our rooms,” they said.

Assistant Vice President of External Relations Karen Lancaster for the Office of Communications reflected on this possibility in an email to The News-Letter.

“In the event that students remaining on campus are to be relocated, we will give as much notice as possible. We are in a time of rapid change, and will continue to be guided by public health experts,” she wrote. “We appreciate everyone’s flexibility and cooperation as we face this unprecedented event as a community.”

Editor’s Note: Bonnie Jin is a columnist for The News-Letter. She was not involved in the writing or editing of this piece.

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