News, University News

Brown suspends study abroad program in Italy due to increasing concerns about coronavirus

Students told to depart from Italy, given option to take online UniBo courses, withdraw

By
Contributing Writer
Saturday, February 29, 2020

In response to the spread of coronavirus, students enrolled in the Brown in Bologna program have been told to leave Italy, with the option of taking online courses or withdrawing entirely. At press time, there were over 800 cases of coronavirus in Italy, and 21 deaths.

Updated 8:00 P.M. Feb. 29, 2020.

In light of growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, the University cancelled its Brown in Bologna program yesterday, asking all enrolled students to make arrangements to depart from Italy.

The email from the Office of International Programs announcing the program’s cancellation came hours after a previous email sent to students gave them the option to stay in Italy or leave. Classes at the University of Bologna have been cancelled since Feb. 24.

At press time, there were over 1,000 coronavirus cases in Italy, causing 29 deaths, according to a tracker run by Johns Hopkins University. The University’s final decision to suspend the program was a result of the Department of State raising Italy to a Travel Advisory Level 3: Reconsider Travel, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raising Italy to a Travel Warning Level 3: Avoid Non Essential Travel. At press time, there were no cases of the virus in Bologna. 

“While we understand that this is incredibly disheartening news, especially since we have been working hard over the past days to put contingency plans in place that would allow you to remain in residence in Bologna and more importantly because this comes so soon after our earlier message we unfortunately have to make arrangements for your departure,” the email from OIP states. “This is a testament to how swiftly this outbreak has been evolving.” 

Brown in Bologna is comprised of seven Brown students, as well as 32 students from other universities. Students are currently rushing to book flights out of Italy by March 7 in order to get their travel covered by the University. Once out of Italy, they have the option of taking online courses via the University of Bologna remotely, or of formally withdrawing. If students choose to withdraw, they “will receive a full refund of the Brown in Bologna program fee and a prorated refund of housing,” according to the OIP email. 

The decision comes amidst a growing number of cancelled collegiate programs, including Rhode Island School of Design in Rome and programs in Florence led by Syracuse University, Johns Hopkins, New York University, Elon University and Stanford University. Two Brown students were taking part in the Syracuse program and have already left Italy. 

Students from the program have shown mixed reactions. Some said that the OIP was premature in cancelling the program, and think that this decision is an overreaction caused by the sensationalism of the media. Others understand why Brown had to suspend the program.

Joseph Sciales ’21, a Brown student enrolled in Brown in Bologna, said he understands that “it’s not Brown’s fault.”

“Once they reach Level 3 they have no choice but to send us home. But I feel bad that this disease has been such a product of media sensationalism,” Sciales said. He would rather “sign a waiver risking it because there’s a (very high) chance of surviving.” 

“I’ll take my chances with it,” he said. 

Sophie Otero ’21, another student enrolled in the program, said she understands the program’s cancellation is unfortunate. “But at this point it’s also not just about us. It’s also about spreading the virus and it has the potential to kill … (those with vulnerable immune systems), so if I have to leave so I don’t have to possibly infect someone, that’s okay,” Otero said.

Other students expressed concerns about their own health. “I have asthma, so I have a higher chance of dying than a 70-year-old, so when people are like ‘it’s just killing the (older) people,’ they aren’t thinking about my situation,” Lucas Sanchez ’21 said.

Sophia Zamboni, a Tufts University student enrolled in the Brown in Bologna program, thought Brown should have waited longer before making the call to cancel the program. “I immediately burst into tears while I was reading the email. I’m in shock because I think all of us in Italy still feel so safe and we don’t feel like it’s an emergency,” she said. 

“It’s really scary because we’re going to have to take these online classes in an environment that we’re not prepared for. We didn’t mentally prepare to have to take courses in Italian in America,” she said. “We don’t know what that’s going to consist of but it’s going to be hard a lot harder than here, and that’s really going to put a strain on mental health, in my opinion,” she added.

Marina Chiaramonte, a Barnard College student, found out about the program closure while she was in London. She is traveling today to Bologna to pack her things and has a same day flight back to London. She is trying to stay as long as she possibly can in Europe, but her plans remain unclear. 

“I slept for two hours last night. I’m falling apart because I just can’t comprehend this right now,” she added.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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