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After Harvard cancelled summer programming and as uncertainty about future semesters looms, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana outlined the process by which students may petition for summer housing in a Friday interview.
After the College mandated students vacate campus last month to avoid the spread of coronavirus, many students expressed anxieties over their ability to return home. Some said they could not afford the cost of transport; others worried about returning to unstable or unsafe home environments or hailed from countries whose borders had closed.
As these students navigated what some described as an opaque petition process to stay on campus for the remainder of the spring semester, many scrambled to find alternate arrangements with friends, peers, and concerned alumni.
The College recently announced that non-graduating students who successfully petitioned for — and accepted — spring housing will be eligible to apply to remain on campus for the summer. Khurana said the College has been conducting individual outreach to such students who may require summer housing.
“The approach we take is that there's individual reach-out from different offices depending on what issues the students may be confronting,” he said. “For students who are facing different types of issues, resident deans will be reaching out to those students, or those students have also been told to reach out to their resident deans if they'll need summer residences.”
The Dean of Students Office wrote in an email last Monday to students currently staying at Harvard that housing will be “extremely limited” this summer. Only students currently housed on campus, enrolled for both the spring 2020 and fall 2020 semesters, and not slated to graduate this semester may petition to extend their stay in residence through the summer. These criteria exclude students who successfully petitioned for spring on-campus housing, but ultimately chose to forgo it.
The email invited graduating seniors, who are ineligible for summer housing, to reach out to their resident deans if they are concerned for their plans after they leave campus. The summer housing petition process opened Friday and will remain open until Thursday.
To be considered for housing, students must be unable to return home due to one or more of the following conditions: inability to travel due to immigration visa restrictions; inability to safely return home due to housing insecurity, financial insecurity, or other extraordinary personal circumstances related to health and safety; or previous identification as being independent for the purposes of financial aid.
Tomasz Cienkowski ’22, a student from Poland who petitioned last week, said he believes he qualifies for the first condition because the Polish government decided to close the country’s borders in March and airlines have suspended most inbound flights due to the pandemic.
Cienkowski added that because the U.S. has temporarily banned entry for foreign nationals from Europe, he also wants to avoid being barred from returning to campus in the fall.
“Given the uncertainty that we don't know what's going on in the fall, I just thought that leaving the country now wouldn't be too reasonable because maybe I wouldn't be let back in or maybe I would be burdened with a much greater delay in time,” he said.
Vladyslav “Vlad” Ivanchuk ’23, a student from Ukraine, said the summer petition is clearer than the “vague” process he endured to secure housing for the spring term.
Ivanchuk similarly said he petitioned to stay for the remainder of this semester because coronavirus prevented his return home to Ukraine, which also closed its borders in March.
“I'm grateful they're making it more straightforward now than it was before the spring semester,” he said. “I was much more worried back then than I am now.”
Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an email that a committee of representatives from the College’s residential life, the housing office, and resident deans will review each individual petition and consult with the Harvard International Office and other offices, as appropriate.
She added that the College announced the application and review process as soon as they finalized the summer plan for emergency housing after “much thought and planning.”
Cienkowski said he appreciated the $200 price tag for summer housing, but was frustrated that the College will not begin notifying students if they are approved for housing until April 29 — just over two weeks before the move-out deadline on May 17.
“I don't know how much anxiety, stress, mental health damage that could cause to someone if they found out that they have to move out two weeks before and find themselves in a foreign, plague-ridden country without any support network,” he said.
—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.
—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.
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