Bowdoin College campus. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — A petition circulating among students Wednesday afternoon requests that international students, low-income students, students with disabilities or other students who may need it, have the option to reside on campus “so long as they don’t leave.”

The petition comes hours after the college’s announcement Wednesday that, due to fears surrounding the coronavirus, students are not to return to campus after spring break and classes will be conducted remotely for the remainder of the semester. 

The petition also requested that the college provide travel funding for students who do not have safe homes to return to, offer a clear plan to ensure the financial security of work-study students and that the college be more transparent about its decision-making process moving forward.

“We deserve to have a voice in the decision-making processes that are currently upending our lives,” the petition reads. 

The college recommends that since international students’ immigration status will remain unchanged, students should remain in the United States “so as to minimize the impact to graduate school visa transfers … and other status concerns” as well as to minimize conflicts with time zones and online coursework, according to an email from Katherine Lynch O’Grady, associate dean of student affairs and community standards. 

“We recognize this is easier said than done, so we encourage you to think broadly about possible options,” she said of finding housing in the U.S., suggesting staying with friends or roommates. “In rare, exceptional circumstances, a student may petition to remain on campus,” she said. 

Students needing to stay on campus will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but Scott Hood, senior vice president for communications and public affairs, said he expects the numbers will be small. Bowdoin College has 121 enrolled international students. 

As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, 785 people, 85% of them students, had signed the petition.

“While there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Maine or among Bowdoin students, faculty, or staff, there is significant risk that, due to the highly contagious nature of this virus and the susceptibility of communal campus life, it is only a matter of time before it finds its way here,” Bowdoin President Clayton Rose wrote in a letter to the school community.

For many students, including international students, those who rely on work-study, students currently out of state on spring break, students without safe homes to return to or those who do not have stable internet access, threats of the coronavirus seem far removed from the immediate concern: What happens next? 

Notices directing Bowdoin College students how to pack up their rooms are posted on dorm doors. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Daniela Quezada, a sophomore, returned home to California Tuesday, only to find out Wednesday that she needed to back to campus to pack up her belongings because she wouldn’t be going back to school. She has one week and is hoping to get back by sometime Thursday, but “it’s not cheap to book a flight randomly,” she said. 

College officials are working to determine how they can help students get where they need to.

For students who aren’t able to make it back, the college is suggesting they enlist the help of friends by asking them to pack up their items and ship them home. Quezada argued that feels like a violation of privacy. 

More than that, though, she is concerned about low-income, first-generation students like herself who rely on on-campus jobs and is frustrated that there was not more communication from administration. 

Students with work-study jobs will receive their full allotment, Hood said Wednesday night, but did not have any information about students with on-campus jobs.

“I cannot fathom that the college didn’t have any idea (this might happen) before spring break,” she said, calling the decision “poor decision making and planning.” 

Symone Marie Holloway, a sophomore from Alabama, has health insurance through Bowdoin and depends on the school for health services, she said, adding that her prescriptions are dwindling.

More of a “doer” than a visual learner, Holloway is concerned that an online learning environment won’t be effective, “and that’s not what we’re paying tuition for.” 

Raymond George, a freshman from New York City, agreed. 

“There are students who pay and whose parents pay a lot of money to attend this institution,” he said.

While the college has said students will be partially reimbursed for room and board, “we’re still going to be paying the same amount of tuition for far fewer services,” George said. 

George considers himself among the fortunate. He is within driving distance and will be able to take a car up to Bowdoin next week to clean out his room. 

He is worried about some of his classes, like oceanography, which are supposed to be very hands-on in the second half of the semester, and what that might mean for his academic future.  He is trying to be understanding. 

“I don’t expect all of the kinks to be worked out just yet,” George said, but as he heads back to New York and his roommate heads back to Seattle, he can’t help but notice that some students are going back to higher risk areas. 

Student government officials expressed similar concerns and said in an email that “some students specifically did not go home because they did not want to return to communities that saw larger outbreaks of the virus,” and returning home may be “putting them at greater risk at home than on campus.” 

“I think as an institution the decision makes a lot of sense for their image,” George said. “I think it is on the more cautious side, but I don’t think it’s necessarily irrational.”

Not everyone has the same view.

According to Quezada, canceling on-campus classes for the rest of the semester, instead of for a few weeks as some other schools have done, is “a big statement and an overreaction (that is) putting people in a vulnerable position.” 

Holloway agreed. 

“It’s a harsh reaction and they’re not weighing how it’s going to affect everyone,” she said. 

“There are a lot more questions than there are answers,” Hood said, but “the decision was made to protect the health and safety of the campus and larger community here in Brunswick.”

“While we’ve made the decision to go to remote learning there are a number of things that we’re working through,” he added. 

Rose said in his announcement that the school will be sending more information and developing detailed FAQs in the days to come, and will hold three live-streamed virtual “town hall meetings” on Thursday— one for students, one for faculty, and one for staff—to help answer questions.

“We are all saddened by the need for this drastic measure and for the impact it will have on our entire campus community,” he wrote. “I know that this decision poses significant challenges for everyone, and I am committed to providing the support and tools necessary to deliver the best learning experience possible under these unprecedented circumstances.”

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