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Difficult Choices For Students As IU Closes Dorms, Ends In-Person Classes

student-move-out

Students are rushing to move out as IU closes dorms. (Seth Tackett, WFIU/WTIU News)

As the deadly coronavirus spreads throughout the United States, universities are making hard decisions that impact the lives of thousands of students. 

Kayla Skinner is a senior English major at Indiana University. She lives just off campus with five roommates. Up until last week, she had a job at a bookstore on campus. That’s when Indiana University called off in-person classes for the rest of the semester.

Now Skinner and her roommates are trying to figure out how they’ll even afford to live in Bloomington — much less experience the kind of senior year they’d been imagining.

“I really love being a student and I feel very privileged to go to school here. So just not being able to say goodbye, it does hurt and especially the bookshop,” she says.  

Skinner works on campus at a bookstore and because the situation is so fluid, she doesn’t even know if the bookstore will reopen this semester.

“I've worked with those books. I know it sounds so dumb, but I am an English major. I've spent more time with those books and I have pretty much anyone else on campus. I see them like 12 hours a week, so I don't even get to say goodbye to my books,” she says.

She’s also concerned about how she’ll finish her English classes online. Not all of them will easily translate to online instruction.

“I have a poetry class, it's pretty hands on, we throw ideas out to each other, and, you know, write while we're in class,” she says. “We've all been like, ‘We want to see each other. We want to see you.’ Because it's really hard to take collaborative classes and not be able to collaborate. I'm also taking a painting course. I have no idea how that is going to look.”

Students living on campus have to decide even faster what they’re going to do next.

Madeline McCarthy is a freshman at the Jacobs School of Music. When the university suspended in-person classes, she went home to Detroit -- the same night she got an email saying the dorms would be closing within days.

“We got that email around midnight,” McCarthy says. “I was awake. So, I read it. We got up at four in the morning. On the road by like five-ish. And yeah, now we're here. It took a couple hours. But yeah, not very many hours asleep. But that's the way it is.”

Like Skinner, she’s also concerned about how the university plans to continue instruction for some of her classes — particularly music.

“Music theory is something that can’t easily be transferred,” she says. “Oral skills is a little bit more difficult. There's one class in particular I'm really quite sad about where we teach each other and we give each other feedback and we learn different instruments. Also, my brass techniques class, I'm not going to be learning brass instruments anymore. So, for music school is it's especially tough for sure.”

This week a group of organizations advocating for graduate student workers criticized the rollout of the university’s plans to close housing.

International students are particularly concerned about what to do next. Especially if they’re from countries affected by the virus or can’t afford to get home.

They say no one should risk losing housing in the middle of an unprecedented outbreak. And they want IU to commit to a policy ensuring vulnerable people can remain.

The university says it hears those concerns and is working to accommodate students.

“We've established a petition-to-stay form which is now live on the residential programs and services website,” university spokesman Chuck Carney says. “And we'll try to work with them to see what is possible. This is an unusual situation, and not anything that we had planned for. But we're trying to make sure that we are housing people who need to be housed.”

Carney also says the university is aware of student concerns about how certain classes like music will be taught online or remotely.

“There are just a lot of balls in the air at the moment,” he says. “And I just hope that our students and our faculty and staff recognize that we're just trying to figure out what's the best thing to do to make sure that everybody is as successful as they can be coming out of this really difficult situation.”

But that will likely come too late for seniors like Kayla Skinner, who expected 2020 to be unique for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus.

“I do feel cheated. And it's not IU’s fault,” she says. “I also know that it's an epidemic and it sucks but I do feel cheated because we came in the class of 2020 as the bicentennial class. So I thought we are going to have everything handed to us, you know, or we were going to have a nice commencement. We are going to be the most appreciated class of a long time. But now I don't even know if we're going to be able to walk (at graduation) and that hurts.”

On Friday, IU announced that it was postponing commencement ceremonies set for May.

Seth Tackett contributed to this report.

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