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In March, with five days’ notice, we were forced to leave a place many of us called home, with little to no support from the administration. We scrambled to find necessities like storage and flights home in between tearful and unexpected goodbyes to many of the people we love. After all of this distress, some of us had hoped Harvard would have learned and would prepare more thoroughly if COVID-19 continued to rage on. But it didn’t.
Instead, at Monday’s Zoom “town hall,” held to address questions regarding the College’s plans for the fall semester, we were offered nothing but vague platitudes and “resources” that will barely make a dent in students’ needs. Furthermore, the administration refused to allow student voices to be heard at all during the meeting. Today, it is clearer than ever before what many of us have known all along — Harvard will always put its obscene amounts of money and prestige above the material needs of its students.
One of the administration’s many failures is its atrocious response to students who truly need to be on campus. A “questionnaire” that assumes all situations can be explained by yes or no questions and a box for students to “elaborate” turns a resource that should help students into a game. Worse, the general framing of the appeal process forces students to share their traumas and painful home environments to prove they really need to be back on campus. It is absolutely heartless to require this of students, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. We demand that the College immediately revise this policy.
First, it should be made clear that these are confidential documents — these are students’ lives, and they should not be treated lightly. Second, the administration must be more transparent regarding the circumstances that determine eligibility. Finally, and most importantly, the College should explicitly allow petitioners to refrain from going into detail about their situations. No student should have to retraumatize themselves for the bare minimum necessity of living conditions conducive to learning.
The administration has proudly announced a $5,000 “remote room and board” allowance per semester for students who decide to take online classes off-campus, but this is yet another misstep. The total cost of room and board is $9,914, but for whatever reason, the College has included less than that in students’ financial aid budgets in the middle of a pandemic. Furthermore, for students in unsafe living situations who are not invited to return to campus, and students who must provide for their families, the College’s allotted aid is not enough. The administration must adjust its financial aid to address the individual needs of the student body, and it must do so in amounts at or more than $9,914.
The College also announced that the fall semester would mark a return to letter grading. Their reasoning is that the spring semester’s emergency satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading system was implemented only because of the upheaval and distress caused by our forced evictions in March. However, just because we are now off-campus does not mean that the chaos has stopped. There are many of us whose economic, physical, mental, and social well-being continue to be adversely affected by the coronavirus. Thus, it is crucial that the administration implement a universal “Double A” system or a universal pass system to help ease the stressors marginalized and vulnerable students are under and allow them to continue their education without fearing for their futures.
While the College has stated that the liberal leave of absence policy would not be affected, considerable changes must be made in order to provide equity for students. Those of us who are first-generation low-income, BGLTQ+, or members of other marginalized groups must be given enough financial aid to allow us to take leaves of absence that we otherwise could not take. Students who take leaves of absence must also be given full coverage under the University’s healthcare services — especially those with chronic illnesses, disabilities, or disorders.
Harvard has once again failed in its moral obligation to address completely the needs of all its students. First, Harvard must clearly state that details are not required in one’s appeal — transparency, privacy, and protection of students from retraumatization should all come before any requirement to “prove” one’s need for on-campus housing. Second, it must grant students, especially FGLI students, all the resources necessary to live in these conditions — namely, an allowance at or above the normal room and board costs. Third, it must grant a more generous grading policy — whether that be universal “Double A,” a universal pass, or at least universal pass-fail with GPA credit given for a pass. Finally, it must ensure that gap years are an option for all students, not just students with disposable income.
We demand that Harvard prioritize the critical needs of students, especially marginalized students. No more inaction disguised in meaningless buzzwords.
Kai D. de Jesus ’23 is a Psychology concentrator.
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