Hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a pandemic, Emory University announced that it would close its residence halls and transition to online instruction. In the wake of the brief March 11 email about the University’s response, many students panicked, terrified by the prospects of homelessness, visa cancellations and financial insecurity. While the University’s initial email was vague and incomplete, its move to facilitate remote learning was necessary in light of the current crisis, and its outreach has been increasingly responsive to student concerns.
The closure, which was first among Georgia colleges and universities, asked all students living in on-campus residential facilities to move out without mention of other housing accommodations. Such a directive placed enormous pressure on all students, especially those from low-income or international backgrounds. Some students petitioned Emory for “an immediate moratorium on all student evictions,” as well as an expansion of counseling services and a pass-fail or withdrawal option for courses during this time. Emory students were justified in drafting this petition. The petition addresses fundamental problems like student reliance on University-provided health care, housing and food, and calls on Emory to act swiftly due to its leading position as a global medical institution best equipped to deal with such a crisis.
However, in light of these concerns, the University has been responsive: it has allowed students, under limited circumstances, to apply for continued on-campus housing, agreed to refund unused housing, dining, parking and other fees to student accounts and announced it will issue a $1,000 financial need support stipend to those in greatest need by the end of this week. The Office for Undergraduate Education announced will also consider student requests if they wish to transition graded classes to pass-fail.
It is important to consider that the University’s response to the pandemic is, like every response to this growing crisis, unprecedented, fluid and made in the face of great uncertainty. The administration’s decision to move to remote learning and close residence halls was the correct one in ensuring the immediate safety of the Emory community.
Even at its lowest projected mortality rate of 0.6%, COVID-19 still threatened to wreak havoc on Emory’s campus had it remained open, putting at-risk members of our community, such as older professors, staff and any immunocompromised individuals in danger. Just consider the Woodruff Physical Education Center (which has now closed), Robert W. Woodruff Library and the Emory Student Center: popular on-campus hubs that would have quickly become havens for the virus had the University continued normal operations.
The school’s administration understands the unique financial burden this crisis is bringing about, and they are taking active and necessary steps to alleviate that hardship. While moving classes online upends student life as we know it, allowing in-person classes to resume would have placed lives at grave risk and potentially turned Emory into a coronavirus hotspot. The University administration has also worked diligently to support professors as they shift learning into an online environment. The transitional task is monumental: shifting thousands of students and hundreds of classes to an online curriculum will present myriad difficulties. But, with clear communication and support from students and staff, classes should resume on March 23.
This pandemic will significantly impact the future of our university, whether in regard to potential tuition reimbursement, housing instability or even the selection of University President Claire E. Sterk’s successor. Emory’s leadership must remain focused on the safety of our community above all else and communicate the steps it is taking to fulfill this commitment. And in the coming months, we urge the administration to listen to student voices while considering the additional hardships its policies exact on low-income and international students, on-campus maintenance and dining staff members.
We ask the community to do its part in ensuring everyone’s safety: heed the advice of public health experts, whether that means staying home, avoiding public spaces or self-isolating in case you may have contracted the virus. There are few times when one’s civic duty is clear, and this is one of them. In the face of COVID-19, we all have to work to prevent this pandemic from becoming an even greater catastrophe. We wish everyone health and safety in this trying time for our school, country and world.
We encourage the student body to help communicate and assist with efforts to support those most vulnerable in the coming months. Here are some initiatives that you can join and share to help the Emory community during this difficult period:
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board.
The Editorial Board is composed of Sean Anderson, Brammhi Balarajan, Zach Ball, Devin Bog, Jake Busch, Meredith McKelvey, Andrew Kliewer, Boris Niyonzima and Nick Pernas.