University of Connecticut President Tom Katsouleas emphasized UConn’s support for international students at a virtual town hall yesterday, aimed to answer questions from the community about the university’s response to COVID-19.
“We want you to know in particular that we support you and care about you. The goal is to show you our support, to answer any questions you might have to the best of our abilities,” Katsouleas said.
Questions ranged from financial concerns, bias-related incidents and student affairs questions. Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Eleanor Daugherty guaranteed housing for students who were approved to remain on campus for the rest of the semester.
UConn will also provide summer housing and dining for those who need it but will incur a charge, according to Daugherty. Students in regional campuses who may need housing are also welcome to arrange accommodations to stay on the Storrs campus. Those who may face financial difficulty should get in contact with financial aid offices was something the panel emphasized.
“I know I had a chance to visit some of you in the residence halls and I’m grateful for the community you’ve been building but we want you to know there will always be a place for you at UConn and if you also need to make a personal choice to see your family or maybe family you haven’t seen for some time. We completely respect that but we are not going to leave you without a place to call home during this time,” Daugherty said.
In efforts to address bias-related incidents, UConn has put in place “uKindness.” According to Daugherty, the program is aimed to help build protection and care for everyone. The website can help students stay connected with UConn with things like “Friday chats” and through international students and scholars services.
Husky links initiatives is another idea where staff and students are willing to volunteer and reach out to create a sense of community for those who feel isolated. Angela Rola, Director of the Asian American Cultural Center, has emphasized the importance of reporting bias-related issues regardless of COVID-19 or being on or off-campus.
According to Daugherty, while there are no positive COVID-19 cases on campus, there are students who may be off campus that have been affected. Student Health and Wellness is an important contact for any medical-related issue even if you are off-campus, she said.
Daugherty said accommodations to those students on campus will be taken if medically necessary. Jeffrey Shoulson, vice provost and professor, said those students who are sick should let advisors and professors know of their situation. Incompletes are available if a student is no longer able to continue in their academics.
Questions were also raised about refunds, after the turn to online classes for the rest of the semester.
“We are not considering lowering tuition, your education is valuable, it costs money to provide the education to you and it is our goal to continue to provide a high-quality experience for you whether it’s online or in person. We are trying to be flexible financially like giving funding for housing, dining, and parking fees but tuition is so important to maintaining academic equality,” Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer Scott Jordan said.
Jordan said the Bursar office is currently processing refunds and students should see a credit on their fee bill in early May. Students have the opportunity to use it as credit for future semesters, apply for a cash refund if there’s a financial need or donate to the student’s first fund to help those in need.
Kent E. Holsinger, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the graduate school, said the graduate school has allowed for a pass/fail grading system. Teaching assistants are still going to be teaching in the fall, and graduate offices are still committed to active research, according to Holsinger. The graduate office also changed the procedure to allow applications to be considered without GRE or English test scores since last January and opened options for tests to be taken at home on a laptop.
Rae Alexander, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said they are closely monitoring U.S. Visa offices for students returning this fall or leaving in the summer but flexibility is needed due to the possibility of postponements. Students without travel signatures can still go back home if they choose to and their documents will be shipped to them. The government has taken into account flexible grade periods after programs end for the summer, according to Alexander.
The town hall ended with panelists agreeing everyone has a responsibility to prevent bias-related incidents from occurring. The panel largely agreed that the future is still yet uncertain, but they are all making efforts to make sure they are prepared for whatever may come next by closely monitoring summer and fall operations.
“In society at large, our role as an educational institution is to prepare educational thinkers with tools and with the courage to speak out when they are encountered with bias in society and to be unafraid to speak what they care about and value in the world, and I hope if we do our job right that we will empower you and our students to carry on and fight that battle with us and we will prevail,” Katsouleas said.
Amy Chen is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.