IC students face housing insecurity in the wake of cancellations
Editors’ Note: Names have been changed to protect the subjects’ privacy.
The students of Ithaca College have recently had to grapple with the potential of homelessness come the Fall 2020 semester. The issue of homelessness became far more real when the coronavirus forced the campus to shut down, including the on-campus dorms which house around 4,600 students. Students were notified during spring break of a temporary shutdown which would extend until April 5, while many of us are in other states or countries. The college allowed us until 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 15 to retrieve any items from our dorms.
Shortly after March 15 another email was sent out, notifying students of a permanent shutdown of campus and subsequently on-campus housing. Some expected the announcement, while others were confused. Some expected the notice sooner, seeing no point in dragging out the inevitable when so many other schools had shut down for the academic year. This notice did not include much information on how students would be able to make their way back to campus and reclaim any personal items.
Since pandemics are an uncommon occurrence, few schools have policies or plans in place for how to respond to. Across the ravine, Cornell moved most of their students off campus by having everyone come and get their stuff in a specific time frame. The issue of personal items is also more relevant when you have a place to return to and store them safely.
Students at Ithaca College were given the option to apply to remain on campus under certain circumstances. International students, students with domestic abuse issues, and unstable home lives seemed like easy candidates but not all of them applied. When asked why she didn’t apply, one student, Emma, said she figured it would be inconvenient and ended up staying with a friend and her family. Emma is from the Pacific Northwest originally, until her parents moved to Guatemala. While she is in a very rare situation, it is risky. Insurance is one of the larger issues at play and without proper insurance, she is at great risk during a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Chris, an international student from Nepal, is in a similar situation to Emma. Like many, he was forced into a last-minute scramble to arrange travel, in his case to his uncle’s house in California. He says that he is fortunate to have a support system of family and friends that live in the United States but many international students are not so lucky. This was coupled with the way that international students were handled during this crisis. According to Chris, international students received an email from Ithaca College concerning the campus shutdown but also received an email from the Office of International Programs. The emails seemed to have differing tones, the one from student affairs seemingly discouraging students from taking advantage of the limited emergency on-campus housing and the one from the office of international programs encouraging and reassuring. In one of the emails from the president of the college, it was implied that international students will be considered separately and the college even offered to pay for travel out of the US, which could imply to some students, including Chris, that the school would be able to accommodate them. Chris remained in constant contact with other international students as he worked for the Office of International Programs and he says that students were able to find a place to stay in America. Many students feel they are at risk in the United States and are worried that their visas may become void or about violence against Asian people and foreign people in general. Students that have left the country worry about international travel bans that may extend into next semester, causing further issues with their education.
Many students come to college and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they are in a safe place and that they are mostly free to be who they choose and act as they please within the limits of reasonability. Some students now have to return to unstable or abusive home situations during a time they would otherwise not be there. Queer and trans students along with students with mental health issues are at the greatest risk for this. CAPS has taken this into consideration and most of their therapists are available on call for sessions over the phone but this is sometimes not enough. Some students are couch surfing or unsure where to go, trapped in between homes where they are not welcome and a school that is unsafe to inhabit. Those students are numerous, and we all know someone who dreads the holidays and says a tearful goodbye come summer, not only because of what they leave but what they return to.
Leo Baumbach is a second-year english major whose couch is always available. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.