News & Politics

Harvard Students Left in the Lurch as Campus Closes for Coronavirus

When classes at Harvard University resume after spring break, students will attend virtually, rather than in person. When university President Lawrence S. Bacow made the announcement on Tuesday morning, students panicked.

“Harvard just gave students 5 days to pack all of their things, move out, and go home. many can’t go home because of costs and travel restrictions, and they’ve provided no guidance. and we’re expected to go to class for the rest of this week,” Hakeem Mangulu, who identifies himself as a Harvard student in the class of 2020, announced on Twitter.

Mangulu explained that he “CAN’T go home to Jamaica, especially on such short notice.” His work visa requires him to remain in the U.S. until July. While Harvard reportedly has exceptions to the move-out order, the process appears incomplete.

“I’ve reached out to multiple people at this point. and the application that is due tomorrow morning isn’t even online yet! you can’t just send an email unleashing mass anxiety and be so tragically unprepared,” the exasperated student tweeted.

Others echoed his confusion and exasperation.

Ben Sorkin, another student in the class of 2020, criticized Harvard for sending the email out at 9 a.m.

“Harvard gained nothing by sending this out at 9 AM as opposed to 5 PM by which they could’ve: 1. Had a fleshed out protocol instead of having calls with ResLife admin happening right now 2. Developed actual resources for students on this 3. Not ruined a day of exams/thesis work,” he tweeted.

Some students accused Harvard of racism and classism… for trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“Harvard wants its entire student body out of campus by March 15th,” Laila Tauqeer, president of the Harvard Islamic Society, announced on Twitter. “There are international students. Homeless students. Poor students. Students who can’t go home for a number of reasons. Time & again this campus shows that they only care about their white wealthy students.”

Some accused Tauqeer of “spreading lies,” referencing the official announcement.

In that announcement, President Bacow insisted that “students who need to remain on campus will also receive instruction remotely and must prepare for severely limited on-campus activities and interactions.” Yet it appears that Harvard was woefully unprepared to deal with the many students who need these options.

It makes sense students panicked, given the abruptness of the announcement.

“We will begin transitioning to virtual instruction for graduate and undergraduate classes. Our goal is to have this transition complete by Monday, March 23, which is the first day of scheduled classes following Spring Recess,” President Bacow wrote. “Students are asked not to return to campus after Spring Recess and to meet academic requirements remotely until further notice. Students who need to remain on campus will also receive instruction remotely and must prepare for severely limited on-campus activities and interactions. All graduate students will transition to remote work wherever possible. Schools will communicate more specific guidance and information, and we encourage everyone to review previous guidance about both international and domestic travel.”

Students being “asked not to return to campus” might naturally feel a sense of foreboding when it is not easy or perhaps even not possible for them to return home. If Mangulu was correct in reporting that the application for remaining on campus is indeed due Wednesday morning and was not available on Tuesday afternoon, exasperation seems an appropriate response.

Yet incompetence and rushed decision-making explain this situation far more than any bias or animus on Harvard’s part. Tauqeer’s complaint seems a desperate attempt to tie a temporary bad situation to ridiculous leftist accusations of “systemic” racism and classism. Sure, most of Harvard’s international students may be racial minorities, but Harvard’s failure to adequately prepare for their concerns about a coronavirus closure need have nothing to do with any bias. In fact, Harvard is likely to take Tauqeer’s concerns more seriously because she is a minority.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.