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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Approximately 175 students approved to stay on campus

In an unprecedented decision meant to address concerns over the global Covid-19 pandemic, the college ordered students to leave campus last Tuesday. While the majority of students were expected to head home, those who wished to remain on campus  — because of travel distance to home, high numbers of Covid-19 cases in their hometowns or other reasons — had the option to petition to remain on Middlebury’s campus.

Many who did so, however, were disappointed, as deans tasked with communicating the decisions pushed most applicants to find alternatives. At the same time, most of the students The Campus spoke with expressed understanding of the college’s safety concerns as the number of Covid-19 cases in Vermont increases

Now, even those who were eventually granted permission to stay face uncertainty about the rest of the semester, as the college contemplates closing its campus to students completely depending on continual reassessments, according to emails sent by deans to students remaining on campus.

From 2,500 to 175

Administrators originally predicted that a few hundred students would be allowed to remain on campus. Ultimately, they permitted roughly 175 students to stay, according to an email sent by President Laurie Patton Saturday night. By Wednesday, March 18, as major U.S. cities instituted lockdowns and the U.S. closed its border with Canada, some students left campus for home; now, fewer than 140 students remain physically on campus, according to Dean of Students Baishakhi Taylor.

Deans were expected to tell students who petitioned to stay whether they could remain on campus for at least three weeks by Friday, March 13, the same day students were originally told to leave campus. The college later moved the departure deadline to Sunday. 

The tight turnaround left students who were denied permission — many of whom were confident their situations warranted staying on campus — scrambling to find alternatives. The college advised those who were able to stay with family or friends stateside, which many are now doing, and is offering financial aid to those who need help traveling.

Deans were unable to respond for comment before this story was published. But many of the emails students received from their deans emphasized the importance of getting as many students off-campus as possible due to safety concerns arising from a potential Covid-19 outbreak. The emails encouraged students to exhaust all other potential options before petitioning to stay.

Donovan Compton ’23, a U.S. citizen who calls Italy home, had his petition to remain on campus rejected. With Italy on lockdown, he says returning home to that country’s Veneto region — one of the regions most heavily-affected by Covid-19 in the country — is not an option. 

“If I were to actually attempt to go back to Italy … I would most likely not be able to access the country, and in the case I would be let into Italy, my parents wouldn't be able to retrieve me at the airport since the roads are blockaded so as to make driving extremely limited,” he wrote in an email to The Campus. 

Compton’s request to stay was denied through a mass email sent to many students in Ross Commons. He said the decision so surprised him that he screamed aloud upon reading the email.

While Compton has family in the states, they are all located in Seattle, another coronavirus epicenter. For now, he is staying with family friends in Massachusetts.

Shahmeer Chaudhary ’21, who is from Dubai, also had his request to stay on campus denied. 

“The decision did surprise me,” Chaudhary wrote in an email to The Campus. “I did not feel like I had any room or opportunity to negotiate. In fact, I was told by my dean, ‘You’re welcome to stop by and talk with me about that, but the answer will unfortunately be the same.’ I felt like I was out of options and the administration was unwilling to even hear me out.”

Domestic students also had concerns about leaving campus. Kai Milici ’21 is from Seattle and petitioned to remain on campus. She did not plan to stay there indefinitely, but felt that she needed a few more days beyond the Sunday move-out date to assess whether it would be smarter to return home or to stay with friends on the East Coast.

When Milici’s application was denied she, like many of her peers, reacted with frustration. 

“I felt like I was being forced into a potentially dangerous situation,” she said, adding she was stressed by how the required self-quarantine would exacerbate existing feelings of isolation.

But in hindsight, with the possibility of travel restrictions and lockdowns looming in the coming days and weeks, she understands the college’s decision.

Milici has since returned to Seattle, where she said the high degree of social isolation has already resulted in increased stress. She does not expect to be able to leave for “at least a couple of months.” While she hopes to return to the East Coast to participate in summer internship opportunities, she is grappling with the potential that this may no longer be a possibility depending on how the situation progresses.

Tre Stephens ’21 was granted permission to remain on campus. Stephens is from Chicago, Illinois and petitioned to stay due to “extraordinary personal circumstances” regarding his home situation. He explained that he wrote to his dean out of fear, more than anything else.

“I wanted to stress that if I am requested to leave campus, I will literally have no place to go,” Stephens wrote in the email he sent to his dean. “I am honestly scared. Please please please consider letting me stay.”

This past summer, the stove in Stephens’ house exploded, causing a house fire that so completely destroyed the house that his family is currently living with other relatives. Stephens simply does not have a home to return to, he said. 

The school initially denied Stephens’ request, instead offering to pay for his travel home. Stephens responded with another plea to stay. In his email, he wrote that he was not able to stay with family and close friends because they said they did not have space for him.

Following this secondary plea, Stephens was granted permission to stay.

Many students allowed to remain on campus have been warned that they may need to return home if the situation does not improve when the college re-evaluates its plan in three weeks.

An email from Assistant Director of Community Standards Elaine Orozco Hammond to multiple students last week insinuated this possibility. “It is possible we will be back in session, or asking people to leave in a few weeks,” it said. “We are taking this one step at a time.”

In that situation, Stephens has no idea what he will do.

“Where will I go? How will I get there? Money? Food? Clean clothing? These are all concerns that rush through my mind,” he said. But Stephens believes that college administrators are doing their best to act in the interests of students.

Other students applied to remain on campus for health concerns. Marisa Edmondson ’20 is from rural Colorado and has severe asthma. This condition compromises her immune system, and makes her particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.

Edmondson’s hometown is a two-hour drive from the nearest hospital, and her health condition posed a serious risk of possible contamination if she tried to fly home, she said. She considered living with friends in Rhode Island indefinitely when the school denied her request, but ultimately decided to road trip home to Colorado, where she will stay in quarantine with her parents.

Jake Guaghan ’22, from Honolulu, Hawaii, was denied permission to remain on campus. In his petition to stay, Guaghan cited the length and difficulty of traveling home and the likelihood that he may be exposed to coronavirus while in airports. 

At the time of his petition — last Tuesday — he felt that it would be irresponsible to risk the possibility of bringing coronavirus back to an isolated locale. The denial of permission to remain on campus left Guaghan feeling anxious and scared, but not surprised. 

“Throughout my time here, I've realized that American students who don't live in the contiguous 48 are often forgotten by the school,” he said. Students from Hawaii and Alaska face many of the same challenges as international students, he said, but there are no institutional structures to assist these students.

Owen Marsh ’20, from Scarsdale, New York, where there are multiple confirmed cases of Covid-19, has also been denied permission to remain on campus. After a middle school teacher in his town tested positive, many have been placed in quarantine. 

Those living in Scarsdale are only leaving their homes when it is absolutely necessary and are constantly maintaining a distance of six feet away from all other people, according to Marsh’s parents. He was surprised, he said, when he received an email alerting him that he would not be able to remain on campus. 

“I am lucky enough to have friends who have been willing to house me, but I don't know how long that will last, and I am sure that there are many much less fortunate than me,” Marsh said. 

As of now, Marsh plans to move from place to place and avoid returning home. He hopes to be back at Middlebury before May — but at the time, it is unclear whether or not that will happen.

Gaughan’s plans changed constantly throughout the two days following the denial of his request to remain on campus. Ultimately, he has decided to go home. Given the escalating crisis, he is concerned that if he remains in the continental U.S., he would eventually be unable to return home.

During his flight home, another passenger seated in the row in front of Gaughan fell ill. The passenger was quarantined mid-flight and required the assistance of emergency medical services to deplane. 

“While no one knows necessarily with what he is afflicted, I couldn’t help but think about how this type of scenario was exactly what I outlined in my petition to stay on campus,” Gaughan wrote in an email to The Campus on Saturday night.

Returning home will also impact the lives of students beyond the possible transmission of Covid-19. Due to the six-hour time difference between Vermont and Hawaii, there is the possibility that Gaughan will need to take his online courses at 2 a.m.

Chaudhary, the student from Dubai, expressed similar concerns. Dubai has a nine-hour time difference from Vermont. He is worried about how this will impact his ability to partake in classes that many professors are planning to conduct in a “video-chat” format.

Chaudhary said he is anxious about the impact returning home could have in the long-term, especially because he is hoping to do an internship in the states this summer.

Jiaqi Li ’22 is from China and, like Stephens, was granted permission to remain on campus. Li was concerned that flying home was not a viable option for her logistically or financially. 

“I love Middlebury College dearly and at present, I truly consider this my home, my only home. The news on Tuesday really made me feel as if my world is falling apart, when the support system I rely on is no longer feasible,” she wrote in the email she sent to her dean requesting permission to remain on campus.

If Li’s request to stay had been denied, she felt that the best option would have been to explore housing options in Middlebury, off-campus, with the financial support of the college.

“This is a scary time for all of us. I know many people were sad to leave for multiple reasons, and for some of us leaving has never truly been an option,” Stephens said.

Editor’s note: Jake Gaughan and Owen Marsh are both Opinion editors for The Campus.