This week would’ve been our second back from break. You would’ve been reading this column in print over breakfast in a dining hall as your friend sat across from you completing that overdue essay. But we find ourselves scattered across the world, some in childhood bedrooms we had left for good, others in places we found when Yale failed to care for us. Shutting down campus was important, but much of the University’s response has left its neediest students in limbo, with insufficient communication and inadequate support.
Starting with the first email on March 10th, Yale’s approach to closing campus lacked empathy. Alongside hundreds of my friends, I was pushed to the brink of eviction when Yale shut its doors on us with no plan and little support. It exercised exceptionally strict standards while processing petitions to stay on campus. I spent days in uncertainty about accommodation, immigration, finances and healthcare. During these hardest times I saw my friends’ petitions denied, their pleas for help largely unanswered. Yale turned its back on us and turned us away to face the pandemic on our own.
After returning home, I spent several days scouring other universities’ COVID-19 response pages. I needed to know Yale could’ve done better, that my frustrations were not simply manifestations of my sadness. I was right.
Most universities avoided uncertainty and panic by outlining information in their first communications that Yale students received over three days. They maintained empathetic standards for those who couldn’t leave campus and processed requests through centralized systems. While Princeton and MIT’s guidelines explicitly accommodated those who are home-insecure to remain on campus, Yale had no corresponding university-wide policy except for emancipated students and those from countries with a Level-3 classification by the CDC, indicating widespread transmission of the coronavirus. Across the 14 residential colleges, standards seemed to vary wildly — one Head of College held a town hall on the night of the announcement but many stayed radio silent.
In a world where so much remains uncertain, Yale can alleviate our everyday anxieties. I write this as we approach the April 2nd faculty meeting where Dean Chun promised to consider the Universal Pass (UP) proposal. In the meantime, we’ve been left with a lukewarm opt-in Credit/D/Fail policy that asks us to put tremendous faith in the University’s ability to make individual accommodations for students.
Based on students’ experiences this month, such faith is unfounded. Within my first week I have had to attend meetings and class at 1:30am and wait until the last 12 hours of an assignment to receive confirmation on an extension. One professor offered to mail materials to students facing connectivity issues. Another tweeted, “suddenly, throughout America, college students who are not prepared for class are blaming faulty internet connections for being unable to weigh in on the conversation.”
However, most faculty have been exceedingly supportive. But they, too, have families and friends to care for. Through an opt-in system, Yale College is passing the burden of accommodation onto individual faculty members. It is also trailing behind peer institutions like Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth and MIT, as well as Yale Law School and School of Management, which have already adopted some form of Pass/Fail.
PhD students also face similar inaction from the administration. They wrote an open letter to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) noting that the pandemic had impeded their ability to complete research as labs remain shut, field-work suspended and borders closed. They demanded an additional year of funding to complete their work, in line with action the University has already taken by granting a one-year tenure-clock extension for junior faculty. However, GSAS has yet to respond.
This slow-moving attitude extends to the University’s response in New Haven. Last week, Mayor Justin Elicker slammed Yale for refusing to provide accommodations for first-responders, even as the less-resourced University of New Haven readily offered space. A Yale spokesperson had initially responded that it would take “weeks” to clear rooms but Salovey came forward to offer up 300 beds after a day of bad press.
And then there are all of the other issues we have been left uninformed about, such as accommodations for dining and facilities workers. The University’s communications should address all these concerns instead of reminding us that Yale closed for two years in the 1700s or asking us to donate to a fundraiser to which it has so far contributed 0.02 percent of its annual operating budget.
I know these are complex issues to grapple with and many administrators have assured me that they are trying their best. I am sure they are. In the meantime, many of my friends continue to face existential risks. Some are sleeping on couches and surviving off others’ generosity, unable to return home as borders close around the world. Many are stuck with the task of finding jobs and ensuring their post-graduation financial stability in the worst climate since 2008.
Yale can’t solve all problems, but it can do a lot to alleviate our immediate anxieties by ceasing its vacillation and making decisions.
Yale prides itself for being a thought-leader. Unfortunately, it has largely lagged behind its peers in this crisis. Yale must urgently make progressive decisions that add some certainty to our academic enterprises, so we can focus our energies on serving those around us. These decisions may not satisfy everybody, but can minimize our collective suffering.
From the first day of Camp Yale, the University demands empathy from its students. Now is the time for it to reciprocate.
SURBHI BHARADWAJ is a senior in Pauli Murray College. She is a former Photography Editor for the News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .