Tea Time with Tagwa: Closing on-campus housing hurts students who have nowhere else to go

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Tea timers, the apocalypse is upon us. Well, not really, but it’s easy to be extremely frightened by the highly discussed coronavirus.

Over the past week, universities have begun extending their spring breaks and moving their in-person classes online. Virginia schools including: UVa, Virginia Tech, JMU and our own VCU have stretched spring break another week and moved classes online.

While I’m all for an extra few days off, this isn’t a dream situation. With this complementary week from VCU, I get to catch up on work and hang with family and friends. Fortunately for me, I have a home to return to while the university figures out where to go from here. However, many students aren’t as lucky as me.

Universities all over the nation have given their students just a few days to move out of their dorms for the rest of the semester. Harvard is the biggest culprit in this issue. It gave their students five days to empty out their dorms and vacate the campus. Many students took to social media to complain about their circumstances.

One tweet in particular asked: “Where … are students supposed to go?? What about meal plans that many students rely on? What about the rent that has already been paid?” Listen, I get that when we hear the name Harvard, we think of white students with trust-funds. Why are they complaining about moving out when they can just go back to daddy’s mansion, right?

Wrong. Many students from the university come from an impoverished background. In fact, The New York Times reported that 4.5% of the student population came from the bottom 20% income percentile. 

Perhaps that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, so let me break it down for you. Harvard is home to 22,947 students. 4.5% of that is roughly 1,032 students. There are 1,032 who perhaps don’t have anywhere to go back to. Not to mention students who don’t have a safe home because of a history of abuse. 

Harvard is not the only university to close its door to students living on campus. VCU Residential Life and Housing will continue to keep the freshman dorms closed for the extended spring break. After that, students in all dorms will have to apply to stay on campus. They will receive an acceptance or rejection of their request; if rejected, they must come to campus during a designated time to pick up their belongings if they’d like to have them, or else they’ll stay in the dorms for the rest of the semester. 

Apply to stay in the dorm I already paid for? Absolutely not. I don’t live on campus, however, I have friends who will be affected by this closure. It’s completely and utterly insensitive to just close down the dorms without the input of students who are affected by it. 

What are the determining factors for who gets to stay on campus and who has to leave? While I’m sure students who have classes on MCV will still be allowed to stay, seeing how their classes are still running, I’m not so sure about students who might not be in the best emotional state with their families back home. What does this mean for international students who might not have a financial reason to stay on-campus, but don’t want to upend their lives in the middle of the semester? The reality is: There should be no regulation on who gets to stay in the dorms because all students should be allowed to return after the extended break.

I understand VCU is just looking out for the safety of its students, and it is much appreciated. Nevertheless, the safety and wellbeing of students will still be hurt if they need to move out and have nowhere else to go. And that’s the tea.

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