With college campuses nationwide sending students home in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Binghamton University is giving students the option to stay for the remainder of the semester or leave by March 24 to get a refund for their on-campus housing. With that, students have been scrambling to figure out what to do.
Isabella McGinniss, a sophomore double-majoring in English and political science, said she will go home to Long Island by the end of the week because she wants to be with her family during this time, despite the growing number of COVID-19 cases in her area.
“My parents want me to go home, but they said that it is ultimately up to me and I should take it day by day because of how quickly things have been changing,” McGinniss said. “I’m going back to Long Island, where there are more [confirmed] cases clearly than there are here, but again, I would rather go home before I get it to reduce the chance of spreading it to my parents. I’m trying to leave before there are confirmed cases at [BU] and then plan on self-quarantining with my family at home.”
For others, a new refund policy, announced on March 16, is influencing their decision. Residential Life will partially refund students for their housing, meal plan and other fees charged to students associated with living on campus if they leave by March 24. The refund will give students a credit balance which will be applied toward next semester’s tuition and fees, regardless of whether they live on or off campus in fall 2020.
Garrett Rodas, a junior majoring in human development, said the refund policy, along with the cancellation of on-campus events, helped him make his decision to go back home.
“I’m leaving campus by next Monday or so,” Rodas said. “When there was no refund I was still probably going to go home, but the refund made the decision a guarantee. I was going to stay to do [WHRW 90.5 FM] but they canceled broadcasts for the next two weeks, so that was my last commitment I wanted to stay for.”
Jobim Steyermark, a sophomore majoring in political science, also said he decided to leave because of the cancellation of on-campus activities. He said the decision became more obvious with the closure of resources such as the Glenn G. Bartle Library.
“I was originally planning to stay for the sake of having access to my close friends as well as the library,” Steyermark said. “I’m writing a couple of research papers, and [Bartle Library’s] physical sources would have been incredibly useful.”
A B-Line email sent out on Tuesday listed changes and closings to on-campus facilities. Because of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate to limit all gatherings to 50 people or fewer, the East Gym and West Gym are closed and the University Union will stay open for limited hours. Dining halls have already closed seating, making food exclusively grab-and-go.
In an email to students on March 16, Residential Life officials wrote that students who choose to stay on campus may be relocated and might no longer be allowed to host visitors in their rooms.
“Once we determine the number of students staying on campus, we will develop an operational plan to support the students that remain,” the email read. “That plan may include relocating students to other residence halls in the best interest of public health and overall community safety.”
Steyermark said these changes on campus finalized his decision to go home.
“Hearing that we could be involuntarily relocated tipped the scales for me, though, and seeing the dining halls stripped down to bare essentials the next day made me confident that it would be too difficult to stay,” Steyermark said.
But for other students, staying on campus is the safer option as the virus continues to spread. Daniel Morales, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering, chose to stay on campus until the end of the semester despite the changes, noting the vast number of COVID-19 cases in New York City, where his family lives.
“My parents urged me to go home, but I feel safer here,” Morales said. “They left the decision up to me, but the situation is so much worse in New York City. I’m worried about how lonely it might get up here, but I think it’s the right choice.”
Adhemar Nunez, a senior double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law, lives off campus and also plans to stay. He said it’s easier to focus on work in Binghamton than at home.
“I plan on staying in Binghamton for as long as the coronavirus is a deadly issue for most Americans,” Nunez said. “I know what situation I’m in better than anyone else. I’d rather be closer to the University and away from my parents’ house when I’m studying for exams, applying for jobs and completing my duties as a student. I complete my work more efficiently away from my house, and I won’t risk infecting people or being infected by people.”
Students who live off campus are not affected by Residential Life’s refund policy. Steven DeNardo, a first-year graduate student studying educational studies, said he will stay in Binghamton because he doesn’t want to risk spreading the virus to his family.
“I don’t want to be a vector to spread it to older people in my house and my family,” DeNardo said. “I’d rather stay in this community of younger and healthier people, where we have a less dangerous footprint if the majority of us do end up getting it or spreading it to each other.”
Still, for those living on campus, staying is taking a risk — as the semester progresses and the spread of COVID-19 continues, BU could change its decision about on-campus housing at any time.
“The situation remains fluid,” Residential Life stated on its website. “Public authorities may direct the University to take additional action.”