Universities claiming to be bastions of equal opportunity must reinforce their ideals with tangible actions to support disadvantaged students. The novel coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how far we have to go in the battle for economic equality in elite schools. Emory has taken considerable and much-needed action to enable all students to weather the crisis, but unfortunately, not all universities have done the same. 

On March 10, Harvard University (Mass.) emailed their 7,000 undergraduate students, asking them to vacate their dorms within the next five days to mitigate the outbreak. For some students, this was a mere inconvenience, a semester cut short. For others, however, this sudden email notification dismantled a vital support system. Harvard provided little guidance for low-income and international students who were unable to return home or had nowhere else to live. According to Harvard senior Hakeem Angulu, the application to stay on campus had not been made available to students on March 10, despite being due the next morning. Furthermore, the University initially offered no financial support for students to pay for last-minute flights or storage solutions. Harvard is far from the only university to take such poorly executed measures. Amherst College (Mass.) also closed their school on extremely short notice — leaving low-income and international students to fend for themselves. The University of Pennsylvania suffered similar issues, evicting their students with six days’ notice and failing to provide transparency on the details of their decision to their community.

While I do agree that moving to remote instruction is a necessary step in stopping the spread of COVID-19, universities must nevertheless do more to help vulnerable students manage the transition. Emory’s COVID-19 response has been more compassionate toward disadvantaged students than most universities. Emory’s $1000 student support stipend, their refund of unused housing and dining fees, and their implementation of a pass-fail option are all steps in the right direction. Additionally, Emory’s move-out procedure allowed students ample time to make arrangements, apply to stay on campus and make the transition to remote learning without panic. This helped to protect the students reliant on the school for three meals a day and a roof over their heads, retaining the support they need throughout this crisis. 

With that being said, Emory’s response to COVID-19 has by no means been perfect. Requiring students to return to campus to vacate the dorms placed an undue financial and logistical burden on many low-income and international families. Furthermore, it endangered all students to potential infection by forcing them to travel through Atlanta as its caseload spiked. Many colleges across the nation, such as Yale University (Conn.), discouraged their students from traveling back to campus to pick up their belongings, and Emory should have also discouraged such travel to further reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Emory should also prioritize their first-generation, low-income students when administering online courses. Some students have no stable internet connection at home. Others may have to balance their online coursework with managing household tasks, working a part-time job or caring for sick family members. One potential solution to this issue is a universal pass system, much like the one being advocated for by Yale students. 

Universities around the nation should look to Emory’s response to this pandemic as a roadmap for future crises. This roadmap is crucial for schools like Harvard, which has an endowment more than quadruple Emory’s and yet refused to support their most vulnerable students amid great uncertainty. As a low-income student myself, I feel like my university truly cares about my well-being and the well-being of my family. We are living in an unprecedented and historic time. Humanity’s actions during the next few months will be studied for decades hereafter, so acting with kindness now has massive implications on future responses. Emory has responded compassionately and admirably to the crisis so far, setting an example among elite institutions that decisive action and empathy are not mutually exclusive.

Jackson Schneider (23C) is from Lafayette, La.