Keep Vassar open

Keep Vassar open

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Alice Woo started this petition to Vassar students and families

Over the course of the past few days, we have watched as several of Vassar’s peer institutions have made the sudden decision both to transition to online instruction, and to move students off campus for the rest of the semester. At the time of this writing, Harvard, Amherst, Smith, MIT, Emerson, and many other private institutions have sent students home without a single case of COVID-19 on their campuses. We are reassured to see that, as of yet, Vassar College has been in compliance with CDC guidelines for Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) in regard to coronavirus response. We respect and recognize the care that President Bradley, a public health professional, has taken in responding to widespread panic about the virus.

At the same time, we wish to emphasize that because there has not been a single reported case of COVID-19 in the Vassar College community, closing the campus would not be in line with CDC guidelines. In fact, CDC guidelines nowhere suggest that institutions close; instead it provides a number of recommendations that would keep Vassar safe even in the event of an outbreak, while still allowing students to remain on campus. The fact that peer institutions are choosing to push students off campus does not mean that Vassar must take the same step: the decision whether or not to keep Vassar open remains entirely at the discretion of the Vassar administration. But as Vassar’s administration deals with this issue, we believe it is within our rights as students to request significant input on the subsequent action that Vassar must take. 

We recognize that the health threat of coronavirus could, in theory, necessitate drastic changes to how we live our lives as a community. However, we strongly urge the administration to consider every possible repercussion of those changes. We, as students, would like to raise the following serious equity concerns:

  • Distance learning is not accessible. Not all students have reliable internet access at home, or have home environments that are conducive to learning. Given the rapid shift and lack of experience with online learning, students may not have access to legally mandated accommodations from note-takers to faculty and staff support.
  • Forcing students to leave campus is a violation of our housing contracts. As a parallel petition from a Wesleyan students points out, “requiring students to leave can and should be understood as eviction. It is not realistic to expect that all students can find safe, adequate, affordable housing in a short time frame.”
  • Not all students have a safe place to return to. 
    • International students may not be able to return to their home countries due to visa complications or because of travel bans. 
      Other students may be homeless, may have broken off contact with parents, or home may be dangerous to their mental health. 
      In the event that some students are permitted to remain on campus, not all students may have the documentation required to win special status, or their families may not permit them to apply for that status. Creating an arbitrary threshold for determining whether or not a student deserves to remain on campus opens us up to a whole new set of complications.
    • If support services are drastically cut, including things from food service to access to therapy, this will make it very difficult or impossible for students remaining on campus to continue activities of daily life. This is functionally equivalent to forcing everyone to leave.
  • Hourly employees, particularly dining workers, are already facing drastic cuts regarding summer employment. Closing campus without compensating these workers would leave them unemployed for months on end, and leave them potentially without healthcare, which only increases the risk of COVID-19’s spread throughout Dutchess County.
  • There are ethical concerns in asking students to return home to epicenters of the virus, even in the U.S., where their risk of infection may be significantly higher than at Vassar. If the administration truly believes that the Vassar community may harbor infection, sending us back to our families risks dispersing it even more. Because most of us are less likely to experience severe symptoms, we risk less harm to others if we stay on campus.
  • For low-income students, going home early means much more than just losing access to classroom time. It also may mean losing housing, food, travel expenses, and the guaranteed income of work-study, which may be thousands of dollars. These economic impacts will not be felt equally among students.

We want to emphasize that there is a broad continuum of options between continuing business as usual and forcing students off campus. The CDC guidelines support the option of students remaining on campus even if there is active coronavirus present, which has not happened. Rather than close campus, they suggest a range of measures, and particularly emphasize “continuity of safe housing” and “continuity of meal programs.” In the event of escalating risk for students and the broader Vassar community, we propose that even a worst-case scenario allows students to make the free choice of whether to stay or go. We recognize that COVID-19 will affect all of our lives, but we refuse to accept that the only option is leaving, and we ask that we have a voice in making this decision. Canceling classes, events, and large gatherings is all well and good, but for many of us, Vassar is our home. We ask not to be displaced.


Signed,

Emma Fraizer ‘21

Alice Woo ‘20

0 have signed. Let’s get to 2,500!
At 2,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!