Less than a week ago, the official word from New York University (NYU) to its students was that in-person classes would not resume until 19 April at the earliest. We were given repeated assurances in emails and through student governmental organizations that our residence halls would not close. At the time, students, parents and government officials praised NYU for its decision to suspend classes, which we saw as a step toward “flattening the curve”.
We were encouraged to leave campus for spring break and to take additional belongings with us in case a significant amount of time passed before our next return to campus. Out of an abundance of caution I chose not to go home for spring break to prevent potentially exposing family members to Covid-19 in case I had been exposed and was not yet symptomatic.
Over the past few days, the roughly 12,000 students living in the NYU housing system saw the situation escalate around us and heard nothing from administrators. On Monday afternoon we received an email saying the residence halls would be closing on 22 March. We were told all students must vacate their rooms by the 22nd, or within 48 hours if possible.
Students who already left campus and did not prepare their rooms for checkout have been strongly encouraged to return to New York, collect their belongings then return home. Regarding those unable to return to New York before the closure date, the university has said only that their items will be packed and shipped to them. We have not been given a timeframe for when this might happen, nor have the obvious privacy concerns been addressed.
The university has created an online form for students to submit applications for emergency financial aid, though the form states that requests over $500 will not be considered. The office of residential life and housing services has said it will offer pro-rated refunds for housing fees for the rest of the semester but has failed to give details of any sort or offer any kind of time frame for when we can expect these refunds. We have been told that a very limited number of exceptions to the eviction policy will be made; the email announcing the closure says “the bar will be very high”.
In its lack of communication and lack of consultation of students, NYU has consistently dropped the ball. This crisis will worst affect students who don’t have any home to return to, are not willing to risk their immigration status in the US to return home, or are unable to return home for fear that they might infect high-risk family members.
The university administration’s refusal to provide us with any details has exacerbated anxieties that were already near a breaking point and it leaves me and many others in search of answers: why has NYU chosen to evict us in the middle of a pandemic, and during a moratorium on evictions? What caused the reversal, and why was no one consulted?
The student-led NYU Inter-Residence Hall Council released a statement last night demanding answers to these questions and giving NYU 24 hours to respond. At the time of writing the university has not responded and students who call the university housing hotline hear a looped recording. The university has also failed to respond to a petition to reconsider its eviction decision; at the time of writing the petition has 4,873 signatures.
As students we do not believe we are asking the university to undertake some exorbitantly taxing effort. We simply want answers and clarity. We implore the administration to reconsider advising students to violate CDC guidelines and return to the city to clear out rooms for a purpose that is currently unknown. If NYU truly is the kind of institution it presents itself to be, the absolute least they owe us is an explanation. We are people, not just NYU ID numbers.