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Nearly 10 Percent of Students Report Losing Family Member or Personal Contact from COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic forced students to move off campus in March.
The coronavirus pandemic forced students to move off campus in March. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Juliet E. Isselbacher and Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard undergraduates reported that they and their families have shouldered severe personal and economic burdens over the past several months, with nearly 10 percent of respondents to a recent survey saying a family member or personal contact has died from coronavirus.

The 877 undergraduates who filled out The Crimson’s 2020 College Survey revealed that the coronavirus pandemic has had far-ranging ramifications for students’ lives since Harvard evacuated undergraduates living on campus in March.

The economic toll of the virus has cast a wide net: 16.2 percent of survey respondents indicated that members of their household had either lost their jobs or had been furloughed during the ongoing pandemic.

The survey responses showed that COVID-19 has had disparate impacts for the families of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, reflecting disparities seen in the population at large.

For example, 53.8 percent of respondents who said their parents earned less than $40,000 indicated that at least one household member had lost their job or been furloughed.

Out of over 100 respondents whose parents earned more than $500,000, however, not a single one indicated that a member of their household had lost a job. Only 3.9 percent within this cohort reported that they had family members who had been furloughed.

Despite the virus’s impacts on students’ families, only a small percentage of students actually reported being infected. Just 2.9 percent of respondents indicated that they had tested positive for coronavirus.

Still, many students reported that they took on extra responsibilities at home after leaving campus in March. Six percent indicated they helped with childcare, 7.9 percent reported caring for a family member or friend, 26.8 percent reported taking on a full- or part-time job, and 54 percent said that they assisted with household chores like cooking and cleaning.

The survey also provides insight into the opinions of both students living in the dorms and those off campus this semester.

The quarter of College students — largely freshmen — who are residing on campus this semester signed a “Community Compact” pledging that they would adhere to the College’s social distancing rules and safety guidelines.

Students living on campus generally reported being more likely to comply with these social distancing guidelines themselves than their peers were.

While 41.3 percent of students said they thought their peers were very or somewhat unlikely to commit to neither hosting nor attending illicit gatherings, only 6.1 percent indicated that they themselves were unlikely to do so.

Similarly, while 63 percent of undergraduates thought their classmates were very or somewhat unlikely to respect Harvard’s prohibition on guests in residences, only 16.3 percent suggested that they themselves were unlikely to follow the rule.

The College has formed the Community Council — composed of student volunteers, faculty, and staff members — to arbitrate alleged violations of social distancing guidelines. Affiliates may bring apparent violations to the council’s attention through an online reporting form.

However, despite students’ distrust in their peers, only 24.5 percent reported they would be somewhat or very likely to inform Harvard administrators if they witnessed behavior that violated the College’s social distancing rules. Over 50 percent indicated that they were very or somewhat unlikely to report in such a case.

The Community Council sent home three freshmen living in Mather House earlier this month after finding that they hosted a party inside with at least three other guests.

As for the students who were not invited to live back on campus, around half reported living at home this semester, while 34.9 percent are living in a rental either in Boston or elsewhere.

When Harvard announced it would invite only freshmen and select upperclassmen with extenuating circumstances back to campus this fall, many low-income students said — unlike their more well-off peers — they could not afford to find off-campus housing if their home environments were unconducive to study.

Only 15.5 percent of students whose parents’ income bracket is below $40,000 are living in a rental this fall while 53.3 percent of students’ whose parents’ income bracket is over $500,000 are living in a rental, according to the survey.

Conversely, 75.9 percent of students whose parents’ income falls below $40,000 are living at home this semester while just 38 percent of those whose parents earn more than $500,000 are doing so.

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.

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