Update 3/25: Housing-insecure students will be sent to live at Queens College, according to The City.
Students residing at Hunter’s Brookdale and 79th St. dorms were told Tuesday to move out by Friday, March 26. Combined, these dorms house several hundred Hunter students.
This announcement comes two weeks after Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to cancel in-person classes at the state and city universities but keep dorms open to accommodate residents due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Cuomo announced in a press briefing Friday, March 20 that buildings at multiple city and state campuses including Hunter College were being considered for use as makeshift hospitals due to the rapid rise in coronavirus cases. It has not been confirmed how exactly the dorm facilities will be used, if at all.
In an email sent out to residents from the Director of Residence Life, Luis Roldan said, “It was only after careful consideration and consultation with public health experts that we determined these measures to be the best — and safest — option for our students and our city.”
However, some students are frustrated. “Everything about the announcement was wrong. Giving three days for 600 plus people to move is terrible,” says Arvind Dev, a sophomore dorming at Brookdale. Dev returned home to Staten Island after the switch to remote classes but hadn’t moved out his belongings yet. “They’re putting so many more people at risk by making this move now, when the pandemic is in full swing,” he says.
Students began remote classes on March 19 and are navigating many challenges with the transition. Sophomore Claudia Dana says the announcement of moving out “in addition to the adjustment to distance learning, is making this week very difficult and has triggered multiple anxiety attacks.”
Among students in difficult situations is Maddi Tuccillo, a junior dorming at Brookdale. Tuccillo pays more than the regular housing fees because she requires additional accommodations such as air conditioning and private shared bath.
Tuccillo is immunocompromised and asmatic and returned home to Long Island on March 7 due to the significant rise in COVID-19 cases in New York City. She says the few days’ notice is ridiculous and is unsure how she will move out by Friday. Tuccillo’s mother is awaiting results for the COVID-19 test and her sibling is currently in the hospital for other medical reasons. She says “my family refuses to enter Brookdale right now.”
Students unable to move out have been instructed to contact Residence Life. “We are aware that this change could pose special challenges for some of you, including international students and those who do not have a place to go quickly.” It is uncertain how CUNY will assist students in delicate housing circumstances, including international students and students who are housing insecure.
Tuccillo’s mother reached out over the phone to ask why they’re putting students’ health at risk and she says they responded with “I don’t know, we’re figuring it out.” Tuccillo was frustrated with their response. “How could you send a definitive email if you’re figuring out the logistics and instill panic amongst everybody while risking lives?” she said she wondered at the time. She is awaiting direction from Residence Life on what will be done for her unique situation.
“Individuals who are healthy enough to enter the actual dorms are putting themselves at extreme risk,” Tuccillo says. Going to a public area is “violating the order from Andrew Cuomo of staying inside and social distancing.”
Other universities are also being used during this pandemic. An appointment-only mobile testing site opened on Monday at Lehman College, testing up to 500 people a day.
Stony Brook will become a temporary hospital along with SUNY College at Old Westbury, said Cuomo in a press briefing. Students living on campus at Stony Brook were asked to move out by March 19. The dormitories will be available for hospital staff, reported The Statesman.
In addition, The Envoy reported that the College of Staten Island’s Dolphin Cove dormitory residents were informed Monday evening they were to move out by Thursday, March 26. CSI’s Vice President of Student Affairs cited Cuomo’s request that universities be prepared for the possibility of being turned into makeshift hospitals.
Upon receiving the email, Elizabeth Jankovic, a junior dorming at Brookdale for the past three years, went to pick up her stuff Tuesday evening. The announcement interrupted Jankovic’s and her dad’s day. She says, “I had an online class and assignments to do today. God knows how long it will take considering the elevators and everyone moving out at once.”
The elevators are a significant safety concern for students. Out of three, only two are working at the moment, one of which was renovated at the beginning of the spring semester in Brookdale’s north building.
Students who are concerned for their health are worried about returning to their dorms.
“Hygiene is unknown to many students and it’s fully plausible that many residents are carriers” at Brookdale, Dev says. “People don’t flush the toilet or wash their hands after using the restroom here and they walk around barefoot.”
“I now have to find a way to get my stuff out, putting myself and others at risk. I could potentially contract the virus, become a carrier and infect my family,” says Dev.
It is unclear as of now whether refunds will be issued, stated Residence Life in an email. Room fees range from about $6,200 to $9,200 per academic year, according to the Residence Life website. Meanwhile, a petition circulating with over 1,000 signatures says its purpose is to let “both the state and SUNY/CUNY system know that students will not tolerate schools’ taking advantage of a viral pandemic in order to steal money.”
“They should definitely refund us for the two months we are missing out right now,” says Jankovic.