Student - Brown University

Last-minute cramming for my chemistry midterm, I and the rest of the Brown student body received the email we’ve been anxiously anticipating as universities around us have one by one been announcing their COVID-19 response: students are to vacate dorms by March 22nd for public health concerns. For students studying far away from home like me, this mandate meant ten days to pack up all our belongings, find storage, and book a one-way ticket home. For FLi students like me, this mandate also meant the next ten days would be spent trying to sort out the uncertain future of our financial, food, housing, and healthcare security — all while saying our abrupt emotional goodbyes to our support system of friends and university staff and faculty that we’ve developed along the way, not knowing when we would see them again in person. (And, yes, I was still expected to take my exam later that day, despite an inability to focus that had disrupted my studying for the past week already; worries about what I would do if Brown actually closed demanding my attention instead.)

The distraught that all students experienced upon hearing this announcement was valid. After all, such a sudden change in schedule is shocking, even when most of us had already accepted that Brown too would follow suit with other educational institutions. The given ten days to vacate graciously exceeded the limited move-out time frame other schools were granting students, but the first confirmed case within our community in the following days of the initial email expedited student move-out, leaving us only five days to actually pack and go.

This rapid transition to online classes from home has forced me to make a few key decisions. I am fortunate to have a loving home in California with my single mom and my older sister who, a senior at UCLA, must now finish her remaining quarter online. However, our low-income background and current living situation have the three of us crammed in one bedroom while we rent out our other bedroom for a little extra income and for company for our mother when we’re away at college. Being in close quarters with my family is not ideal for health matters amidst this COVID-19 crisis, nor is it a conducive learning environment. Though Brown allowed students to petition to stay, I made the call to come home to be with my family in the event that one of our health declines and the country goes on strict lockdown. However, this university closure makes me feel like I had to choose between the well-being of my family and the success of my academics, which my mom has always lovingly pushed me to prioritize in hopes of achieving the so-called “American Dream” for which she immigrated here.

With no access to academic resources and supplies like a proper desk and functioning printer at home, my sister and I are departing in two weeks to UCLA, where we will continue the rest of our school year remotely and where my sister thankfully is still permitted to live there and use her meal plan. We plan on commuting home periodically to visit our mother when necessary and possible, unless California’s shelter-in-place order turns to a full-fledged strict lockdown. On top of this all, I find myself scrambling to apply for funds from a myriad of organizations to make up for the lost on- and off-campus jobs I previously held while at Brown. I am grateful for the financial support the university has provided students demonstrating high need, yet there is much more the institution needs to take into account to ensure the success of its students aside from simply compensating for airfare and storage costs. Colleges nationwide implementing these closures must consider the traditional (e.g. academic tutoring, writing coaching, mental health counseling) and non-traditional (e.g. changes in grading policies and deadlines to reflect home life disparities, etc.) support they can offer.

Navigating college as a FLi student felt like a difficult juggling act before COVID-19 hit; now it’s starting to feel like it’s on the verge of getting out-of-hand.