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As Brown closes amid COVID-19 concerns, 365 students to remain on campus

University receives 609 petitions to stay on campus, will relocate students still on campus to new dorms by March 29

In a typical semester, roughly 5,000 students live on campus. COVID-19 has knocked that number down to less than 400.

“It feels quite empty. I haven’t been out that much. I’ve just been staying in my dorm,” Annie Wang ’22 said.

Following the University’s decision to transition to online classes and to require students to vacate on-campus housing by March 17, Wang is one of 365 students that may remain on campus for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester, according to Associate Vice President for Campus Life Koren Bakkegard.

The University asked undergraduate students residing in on-campus and University-owned housing to leave campus by March 17, citing concerns about the potential for a COVID-19 outbreak if the virus began to spread through residential communities, according to a community-wide notice from President Christina Paxson P’19 March 12. “The only way to limit this risk is to dramatically reduce the number of students residing at Brown,” Paxson wrote.

But 609 students — with concerns including visa issues, the prevalence of COVID-19 in their home countries, an inability to return home due to international travel restrictions, a lack of another place to go or financial hardships imposed by travel expenses — submitted petitions to the Office of Residential Life to stay on campus. Students were required to submit their petitions by noon on March 15.

Petitioning to stay on campus

The majority of students who submitted a petition were either approved to remain in their University residence, were offered a modest extension beyond the March 17 move-out deadline or were helped by staff in addressing barriers to their departure, Bakkegard wrote in an email to The Herald. The University reviewed petitions and communicated decisions to students on a rolling basis. 

Of the 609 students who submitted petitions to remain on campus, 20 were denied and “more than 150 students whose petitions were approved subsequently made plans to depart campus,” Bakkegard wrote. In addition, 365 other students whose petitions were approved will remain on campus. 

Students approved to stay on campus through the end of the Spring 2020 semester remain in the dorms allocated to them for the 2019-20 academic year, and are currently scattered across 53 residential buildings. But the University aims to consolidate all students to a smaller number of residence halls on the weekend of March 28 and 29 with the provision of moving assistance. “The reason for this consolidation is to provide the best possible support to you during this time,” according to a March 22 email from ResLife to students remaining on campus. 

The University is considering several residence halls — including 315 Thayer St., Barbour Hall Apartments, Young Orchard 2, 4 and 10 and Vartan Gregorian Quad A and B — as potential locations for remaining students, Bakkegard wrote. These buildings were identified “in collaboration with medical professionals in Health Services for the benefits they provide in regard to social distancing,” according to the March 22 email from ResLife.

“Social distancing will be a key factor in the housing configuration. Every effort will be made to honor students’ preferences for whom to live with or near,” Bakkegard wrote. 

Additionally, students have been asked to pack their belongings and to limit their off-campus movements. All students remaining on campus “will be required to stay on campus as long as University restrictions are in effect,” according to the March 22 email from ResLife. Travel within Providence is permitted, but students may not travel outside of Providence and return to campus. “If (remaining students) fail to adhere to current or future state or University restrictions limiting travel away from campus, (their) approval to remain on campus will be reconsidered.”

Dining services for on-campus students 

Since March 16, the University has fully transitioned to offering food solely from the Sharpe Refectory with limited meal hours and exclusively take-out services. The University is also offering these meals to students not currently enrolled in a meal plan, according to the March 22 email from ResLife. 

The adjustments are based on the best available guidance from the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote George Barboza, director of dining programs, in an email to The Herald. 

He added that the culinary and management team determines the menus, ensuring that there are always vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available. The dining program’s Director of Health and Wellness is also available to customize special menus for students “who may have needs outside our normal daily offerings.”

International students’ reasons to stay

Of the 365 undergraduate students remaining on campus, 57 percent are international students who are unable to return home due to travel restrictions, visa concerns or the prevalence of COVID-19 in their home country. The Herald interviewed three international students who successfully petitioned to remain on campus. These undergraduates shared their concerns about leaving the United States and returning to their home countries — where they would face a greater risk of exposure to individuals with COVID-19. 

Wang, an international student from Shanghai, petitioned to stay because of visa issues and the prevalence of COVID-19 in her home country. Wang said that the situation is “very stable” in Shanghai as China wrests control of the novel coronavirus. On March 19, China reported no new locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in Wuhan, China, in 2019. Still, Wang is reluctant to return home due to the risk of contracting COVID-19 while traveling through the airport or on the airplane. 

Additionally, if Wang chooses to return to Shanghai, she will be required to quarantine inside her home for 14 days, and a U.S. travel ban could block her from returning to the University in the fall. On Jan. 31, President Trump issued a presidential proclamation blocking foreign nationals who had been in China from entering the United States. “I’m afraid that if the travel ban … doesn’t get lifted by the time we start school again in the fall, then I won’t be able to come back,” Wang said.

Though her new housing assignment is still uncertain, Wang hopes to remain in her Barbour Hall dorm as her private bathroom is “cleaner than a public bathroom that I would have to share” and her private kitchen would allow her to cook her own meals. 

Shirley Shi ’22, another international student from Shanghai, petitioned to stay on campus because of the lack of available flights home. Shi plans to remain on campus until May 16, after her final examinations are completed. 

Because of the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases both in Rhode Island and across the United States, Shi feels growing pressure to return to Shanghai, where the situation is now “much safer,” she said. But many airlines have suspended all direct flights to Shanghai for several weeks, forcing Shi to remain at the University for the rest of the semester.

For Michael Chen ’22, returning to his home in Florence, Italy, was “not an option,” as President Trump announced restrictions on travel from European countries, including Italy, March 11. Because of the travel ban and the high number of COVID-19 cases in Italy, “it was a no-brainer for me to stay on campus,” Chen said.



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