Colleges React to COVID-19 Virus with Closures and Cancellations

by Alicia Nails, contributing writer

The announcements coming from universities here in Detroit and around the nation sound like the plot of a sci-fi movie – but they are only too real.

Face-to-face classes are cancelled in a massive move to online education. Major commencement ceremonies have been cancelled, including at the University of Michigan. Athletes are seeing their hard-fought seasons grind to a halt before championship play can begin. Seniors are seeing their last days on campus screech to an abrupt halt. Parents are told their children have only days to vacate the dorm rooms they would ordinarily have called home through the spring – and at least one Divine Nine sorority has put a hold on membership intake, dropping a campus “yard” ritual of that season.

The United States looks to the lessons of China and Italy, seeking to crush the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus by limiting human interaction by way of social distancing. It’s the official recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control to address the pandemic that has been officially declared a national emergency. It’s also the reason the rug has been pulled out from under America’s collegiates right along with so many other sectors of society.

“It’s unfortunate that senior year will end like this. I wish they could have found a way to have us hold in place and not have to have us travel home,” said Austin Woods, as he packed up to return home to Detroit from Hampton University in Virginia.

The business school / accounting major says, at an HBCU like his where students come from all around the country, the closure is especially hard on those who will need to fly home. His parents will drive the 11 hours to Hampton, pack him up and bring him back. If school does reopen in April or May he’ll be able to fly back with only the items he can carry.

Wayne State students saw their spring break travel abroad trips cancelled. During spring break, they got word that, although the campus is not closing, students who can do so were being asked to vacate the dorm. Classes were moved online, except for labs and other hands-on instruction. These courses can opt for special permission to meet in person, in groups that are small enough to maintain a 6-foot separation between people.

Professors who have never taught online before are now gearing up to do so with the aid of those who are experienced in that format. Publishing companies like Macmillan are offering free access to their online learning systems in response to the need to accommodate this switch to remote learning.

Campus communities are making allowances where possible. Wayne State remains open, with computer labs and libraries available to accommodate students who don’t have internet access and food service for those who need to remain in the residence halls. Academic accommodations include doing away with attendance policies and offering incompletes to students who are simply unable to quickly adapt to online learning models.

For faculty and universities, there’s always next year. The real emotional toll of these trying times may indeed fall on those who worked 12 long years to walk across that stage and take a final stroll across the campuses they hold so dear.

“I am disappointed, concerned, and frustrated about school closings. However, I understand the importance of staying healthy,” said Howard University marketing senior Asia Roscoe. “I’m concerned because this is my final semester before graduation. I was looking forward to the last few moments with my professors and Bison family.”

Like many students, she’s holding out hope that events will indeed allow schools to reopen by the end of the term and that she’ll be able to return to her Washington D.C. campus.

“I hope not to miss Senior week and graduation.”

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