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‘Panic, Anxiety, Emotional Distress’: Harvard Law School Students Organize Resources, Protest After Coronavirus Precautions Force Students Out

On Tuesday morning, Harvard University announced it would transition to virtual instruction for graduate and undergraduate classes after spring break. Harvard College students must vacate their houses and dorms by March 15.
On Tuesday morning, Harvard University announced it would transition to virtual instruction for graduate and undergraduate classes after spring break. Harvard College students must vacate their houses and dorms by March 15. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Kelsey J. Griffin, Crimson Staff Writer

Students at Harvard Law School organized protests and support resources in response to the University’s announcement Tuesday that students must vacate the campus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Law School resident advisors met with Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells and Director of Residential Operations and Student Life Systems Mel Saunders Wednesday to present a list of questions from students living on campus. At the same time as the meeting, students camped outside the Dean of Students office for five hours to demand answers from administrators.

Law School student Felipe Hernandez — a resident advisor who organized the meeting — said the atmosphere on campus following the University’s announcement has been stressful.

“That put a lot of students into panic, anxiety, emotional distress,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “Students couldn’t sleep overnight, couldn’t eat. People broke down crying because they thought that they had to move out as early as Friday.”

Hernandez said the idea for the sit-in sprouted out of anxiety and fear prompted by the message to move off of campus, as well as a demand for more information about the logistics of moving out.

“The point of the sit-in was to bring to light just how poorly the Law School has communicated its response to the coronavirus and particularly its response regarding evicting students from their housing — for on-campus housing — and the process of who can stay on, who can appeal, and the rationale and the strategy behind that,” Hernandez said.

He said the sit-in effectively raised awareness of the issues low-income and international students face, noting that Sells sent an email to the student body answering many concerns about financial aid and housing after meeting with the resident advisors.

Sells addressed housing concerns in her email to Law School students Wednesday. The email stated the school would work with students to provide financial assistance for the cost of travel and would not evict students without a place to stay.

“It is important that you know that we care about every student at HLS and we guarantee that everyone will have a place to stay, whether off or on campus,” Sells wrote. “We would never leave any student without a home (however temporary it might be) or without the financial support they need to stay safe and secure.”

The email also discussed the lack of information and difficulty in communication between students and administrators, explaining the urgency of the pandemic pushed administrators to act quickly rather than establish fully detailed plans.

“We also recognize that the speed of the decisions that we’ve had to make during the past few days has often outpaced our ability to finalize and communicate our plans and processes for supporting students through these unprecedented circumstances,” it reads. “Even today, we still don’t have all the answers to all the questions.”

Meanwhile, Lambda — a student organization at the Law School dedicated to supporting BGLTQ students — has stepped up to secure housing for BGLTQ students in need.

Lamba Co-President Matthew P. Shields said the organization contacted BGLTQ students across campus in an attempt to provide support in moving and finding housing on short notice.

“We reached out to various LGBTQ+ Harvard undergrad groups. We just pretty much cast a broad net to tell people to contact us and tell us what their needs were,” Shields said in an interview Tuesday.

Shields noted that BGLTQ students may not feel safe returning home and struggle to secure safe housing. Lambda is aiming to match students in need with others on campus who can offer temporary places to stay. The group plans to create a spreadsheet of available resources in response to a recent survey of BGLTQ students.

“There are definitely students at the Law School who don’t have a home to return to because of their identity,” Shields said. “It’s a huge factor in our community in terms of being able to find safe and affordable housing.”

Shields said a lack of information from the administration presents an added challenge to Lambda’s efforts in fulfilling student needs, but he said he also recognized the unprecedented and evolving nature of the situation.

To conclude her email, Sells assured students that the Law School aims to assist all students during the transition to remote learning.

“Please know this: We care about you and are here to support you through this immensely challenging time,” Sells wrote. “Everyone who needs our help – including housing and financial support – will receive it.”

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at kelsey.griffin@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

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HealthHarvard Law SchoolLGBTGlobal HealthUniversity NewsCoronavirus