I cannot change the world, but I can change the way I view it; right now I see that university students all over America are struggling with their plans for their futures, which once seemed so clear. Particularly at the University of Connecticut the main struggle for the future that students are experiencing is a lack of communication and transparency from university administration, accepting the complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic but not the lack of preparedness on the part of the administration.
I choose, now, to see the potential for change to the betterment of the UConn community and society altogether, because I know it is there. And I know the community can come together to make it happen, because people have the power to change anything they need or want as long as they have the drive and endurance. To sample opinion and gain perspective for this article, I sent out interview questions to 45 students to understand the situations they were facing with the coronavirus pandemic and university closure. I share many of the same struggles and concerns that my interviewees have bravely chosen to disclose — the least I can do is give them a voice to share these thoughts with the rest of our peers. And, crucially, with those who we acknowledge as our university leaders in the UConn administration with coexisting views of appreciation and resentment.
After interviewing a range of students, I believe most of us can agree that UConn is not a terrible place. In fact, it has been a reprieve from situations we would not have otherwise been able to escape. Some of us have escaped poverty, housing and food insecurity; we have had to struggle out of neglect and abuse. UConn is considered a fresh start for many of us, a way out, a place where we could make something out of ourselves and grow. And in every way we could think of, UConn staff has often been there for us, to work with us through our personal issues and ensure our academic success. On that front, we could not be more grateful, and we commend them for their excellent work. The current emergency response team and the information updates on what UConn is working on to deal with the coronavirus have been nothing short of helpful.
In the panic caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the nation as a whole is finally being faced with all the problems that were merely ignored and pushed aside as water under the bridge. This pandemic’s direct impact on our social, financial and political schemes reveals that — despite deliberate attempts at feigning ignorance — the tide still rises. Inadequate medical insurance coverage and care, eviction and homelessness, food and education insecurity, lack of meaningful and living-wage career opportunities, propagation of false information for the preservation of political factionalism; the list goes on and on.
Second-semester music education and vocal performance major Brianna Chance said as well as any of us, “Once this all blows over, my hope is that people will start to take global health more seriously … I hope that healthcare becomes a right instead of a privilege.”
We are all getting an unobstructed view of how those without security in the American socio-economic setup regularly deal with these crises. The trouble comes in figuring out how to fix societal infrastructures as broken as the American healthcare system, and truthfully, whether we even have the determination to make it work.
All of this reveals that the U.S. government was not prepared to deal with the coronavirus when it hit. Even with the sudden shift to a less passive handling of the virus, the government is not currently prepared to deal with the long build-up of negative consequences from these societal ills. A great fear of many students that I interviewed, and I suspect of many Americans in general, is that these problems will not be addressed. One undergraduate student who wishes to remain anonymous wrote that they were worried that we would all be in such a rush to return back to the status quo, no matter how terrible, that we would not heal the issues endemic to society. That these issues will be allowed to fade away from public memory once the pandemic is resolved and all the people who cannot afford to forget will go back to the chronic suffering from before the coronavirus began.
The fact of the matter is that UConn has a part to play in making sure our community does not devolve to such insecurity again or to allow students and workers alike to fall into even worse circumstances. Nearly all of the students I spoke with on and off record agreed that UConn was not prepared to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps more prepared than other universities which immediately evicted their students, but unprepared nonetheless. The fact that there is a clause in the housing contract (Clause “12.5 Emergency Repossession”, Housing Contract 2019-2020) stating the university’s right to reclaim residence halls in the event of an epidemic or other emergency means that the university administration — or at least their lawyers — have considered that they might eventually need to make such a call. What they have not considered, as evidenced by the slow initial response, is how they would reach the point that they would need to evict. We cannot imagine what made the UConn administration wait until the last few days before spring break to finally start including the student body in the information loop, but it was far too late. Given how abruptly the coronavirus reached pandemic proportions in the United States and UConn’s apparent inactivity before that point to efficiently organize in preparation, it is anyone’s guess as to how UConn would deal with the tumultuous fallout of suddenly evicting all residents.
The UConn administration was not leading or setting an example for other universities, but rather, it seemed, leaving decisions for the final hour. Some students were running from office to office, trying to get any information they could to sort out future living and work arrangements. Rumors of university action fueled decisions; Jessica Cooper, a second-semester pre-teaching major, claimed she felt in the loop, “but that was only because my professors gave us a lot of information that the administration didn’t.” International students struggled to decide whether or not they should return to their home countries and risk not being allowed into the United States again, as I witnessed in the Dean of Students office. Many of us do not have a second place to run to, and if we were to effectively arrange such a place and the means to support ourselves, we needed more than a week before spring break to do so.
All in all, what students need from the UConn administration is to be heard. We want to work with our university leaders to ensure we are getting information in a timely and transparent manner for the sake of our futures, to take responsibility for ourselves. We want to have input on the decision-making process and know what our tuition is going towards. Depending on word of mouth or rumor of outbreaks to make emergency plans without sufficient resources in the first place is like building on the sand. If UConn is planning to sit back and see how things work out, they could at least let us know.
For some of us, faith in the university is not shaken at all. For others though, the feeling permeates that the UConn administration has failed us. Many students have had to return to living situations they would not have otherwise returned if they thought they would be approved for housing for the rest of the semester. We need to stock up on supplies for extended self-isolation but have not got the work or the savings to do this for long, even with potential payment for the few weeks’ time we would have worked. We have to contend with securing steady access to the internet and devices for online classes. We understand that the university was hesitant to make too sudden or severe a judgment by closing the university and they are doing their best now that they have been pressed to make that call. There was never going to be a perfect solution, and to expect one in this crisis is laughable. The most constructive step the university could have taken was to accept the challenge of the pandemic directly, to stay on top of the development of the virus before it suddenly became a pressing threat. Furthermore, they needed to let us know what steps they were taking, no matter how small, so we could plan in accordance as best we could.
The administration has said many times that they care about the UConn community, but their actions and priorities, particularly in the coronavirus pandemic, have seemed to lean towards quietly continuing as though the situation was not a priority before suddenly reaching an emergency public decision. If this is not the case, we would not know; the administration does not actively keep us informed of their workings. What many of my peers and I are becoming aware of is that UConn, or any university for that matter, is not an escape from our issues. In fact, it is but a distancing and delay from facing the problems of society and the mechanisms that oppress us when we re-enter it upon graduation. All our problems, debts and insecurities come crashing down hard after a temporary reprieve, and all the years of schooling do not bring us much closer to solving them. But we still hope for better. We dream of a world where we can be free to do what we love, to heal and take care of ourselves without losing out on our work. Where health care, education and freedom to pursue our goals and personal happiness are human rights and not privileges that must be bought. Reasonably, we cannot expect UConn or any one institution to provide that security. If the UConn administration would be willing to directly work and be transparent with the student body and its representatives, however, that would be a start.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.
Arieta Jakaj is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org