The majority of on-campus students at Binghamton University are leaving their dormitories after administrators announced they would refund room and board fees.

On March 15, BU President Harvey Stenger announced via email that the University will credit and refund students who choose to leave their on-campus housing during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The refund will reimburse students for some of the costs of their meal plans, residence hall charges and other fees related to living on campus.

To be eligible for the refund, all students must notify Residential Life of their departure plans by March 24 using the “Staying and Checking-out” form on the BU housing portal, according to an email sent to on-campus students on March 16. After notifying Residential Life they are leaving, any credit balance on a student’s account will be added to next semester’s bill, regardless of if the student will live on campus or not. If a student would rather have their refund now, they must email the Student Accounts office to request it. Students who have already left can still get their refund by completing this process from home.

Students who choose to stay will be subject to the University’s support plan, which may include relocating students to different dorms on campus, depending on the demand for supervision in each building. As of 9 a.m. on March 18, about 3,050 on-campus students notified Residential Life that they were moving out, and 140 said they were going to stay, according to a B-Line News Addition from Residential Life on Wednesday.

Achar Okoth, a freshman majoring in engineering, is hoping to leave campus soon and said offering refunds is the right thing for the University to do.

“I’m glad they’re offering refunds,” Okoth said. “I feel like if they didn’t and then they just pushed us out, everyone would be like, ‘Oh they don’t really care.’ I guess they’re being more lenient and realizing that ‘it’s hard right now, so we’ll just offer them credits and stuff like that for next semester,’ so I appreciate that.”

Although BU is now offering housing refunds, Stenger initially indicated the school would not be reimbursing students for unused meal plans, residence hall charges and other fees related to on-campus living. At a March 11 press conference, when asked if students would receive refunds for housing or meal plans, Stenger said he intended to not have students leave campus.

“They’re not leaving, it’s still their room and it’s still their meal plan,” Stenger said. “In fact, I think we want to encourage students to stay here as much as they possibly can. So we’re not planning on having students terminate their contract.”

Stenger’s initial plan was mostly in line with actions taken by other colleges across the country, many of which have indicated they will not reimburse students for campus living costs or have yet to make a decision on whether they will issue housing refunds. Some schools that made it clear from the beginning they wanted students to leave have been criticized for not taking into account students who have no place to go, including international and underprivileged students. Livia Zarge, a sophomore majoring in art history, said she thinks the University is handling the housing situation well, but believes the COVID-19 outbreak could get worse.

“I think [BU] knows because of their international student population that they can’t necessarily close housing because it’s going to [leave] a lot of students without a place to go or send them back to places where it’s really not safe,” Zarge said. “At the same time, I feel like as soon as they have a case in Broome County or in [BU] they’re like, ‘Y’all out, we don’t want you here anymore.’”

Resident assistants (RAs) are also in a unique position as they are both students and employees of the University, and there is confusion surrounding their ability to leave campus. Stenger, in a March 16 message to BU employees, detailed the criteria which would necessitate an employee coming to campus. The criteria did not apply to Residential Life employees, but at the end of his statement, he wrote that Residential Life staff “are considered critical employees until such time as the move-out process is near completion.”

Some RAs told Pipe Dream they were unaware of the statement, while others said RAs are being treated like students and they can leave at their choosing. Residential Life did not respond to a request to clarify the responsibilities of the RAs.

Nevertheless, some feel that students should leave while they can. Aaron Lam, a freshman majoring in biochemistry, said he believes shared campus spaces could make a COVID-19 outbreak on campus inevitable.

“The coronavirus is super easy to spread,” Lam said. “I can’t say anything for certain, of course, but I feel like if someone gets it here it’s going to spread really quickly because we live in halls, we share cafeterias, we share bathrooms, so if someone gets it a lot of people here are going to get it and to me, it’s only a matter of when.”