In early March of 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement that all state schools will be closed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic. This announcement made waves through college campuses across New York, and was the first of many decisions that would leave SUNY students questioning; what’s next?
The original decision to close SUNY schools was made before any state institution had come out with their own statement to their campuses. SUNY students and Long Island/NYC residents, Quinn Tesauro of Binghamton, Jahad Hoyte of Farmingdale and Tazmara Anderson of Cortland, were three of thousands to find out about the closing of their campuses through social media, before any official announcement from their schools’ communications departments were made.
“I was sent the press conference that Cuomo put out about schools closing in the middle of my work shift,” resident assistant Anderson of SUNY Cortland said. “At the time, I had not received information from my residence hall director, and didn’t know if this information was true.” It wasn’t until hours after Cuomo’s press conference that SUNY schools began to release their information and plans for closing.
The information regarding coronavirus procedures was sent out via email by each school’s president to their student bodies. Many SUNY students have come out saying it was clear the schools were just as unsure of the status of reopening as their students were, due to constant changing of plans day after day by the schools communications departments.
SUNY Cortland had released their hope to reopen residence halls as soon as April 13, with plans of getting back to on-campus learning April 16. Students were told to pack for their Spring Break as though they would be returning to campus. However, on March 18, SUNY Cortland President Eric Bitterbaum released an email to the campus community that students will not be returning to campus for the remainder of the spring semester.
“It was a very confusing time because the information we received was rapidly changing,” Anderson said. “Two days into Spring Break is when I was notified via email that we would actually not be returning to campus. Naturally, I started to freak out about how and when I would receive my things from my dorm room.”
Even with the rapidly changing decisions of many SUNY campuses, and the seemingly confusing communication between students and administration, Farmingdale student body President Jahad Hoyte firmly believes Gov Cuomo and the SUNY system handled this situation the best way possible.
“Considering how swiftly decisions had to be made between Gov Cuomo and Farmingdale, they did everything they could in this unprecedented situation,” Hoyte said. “There are of course areas of opportunities that we can learn from and develop plans for emergencies such as this moving forward.”
Now that the spring 2020 semester has come to an end, students are anxiously awaiting updates from the state and their campuses on whether or not they will be returning for the fall 2020 semester. In a recent set of emails sent to SUNY students, the campuses have informed them that no decision will be made until mid-to-late July.
“July seems like a good time to announce their plans.” Tesauro of SUNY Binghamton said. “I don’t think anyone knows what the future holds, but July is late enough that we can start to get an idea about how the semester will go, but it’s also early enough so if by chance we do get a second wave [of corona], they will have time to adjust their plans.”
The decision on whether or not to reopen campuses next semester will affect students’ living, work and financial situations, and many are waiting for an official decision so they can plan the upcoming months accordingly.
Tesauro lives off campus at SUNY Binghamton, and has decided that even if campus does not open, she will be moving into her apartment once her lease starts.
“Our leases are set in stone,” Tesauro said. “The only way to get out of your lease is to find someone to fill it, but people are still looking for places to live off-campus, which leads me to believe, for the most part, people are still planning on coming back up and living in Binghamton for the year.”
Resident Assistant Anderson is waiting to hear on whether or not she will be returning to live on-campus at SUNY Cortland, and worries that if campus remains closed, her and many other students will struggle to pay for their schooling.
“Many of us rely on on-campus jobs such as being an RA or working in different offices to help with the cost of school.” Anderson said. “This is something we will have to now struggle to figure out if schools do not open for fall, especially with the unemployment crisis the country is facing.”
Anderson is also planning for her upcoming resident assistant training, and says that residence life is planning for this training to happen two weeks before the return of students back to on-campus housing. She also said that this training may happen online, depending on the decisions moving forward.
Hoyte is a commuter to his school, but understands that many people will be affected in harsher ways than him if the campus doesn’t reopen.
“As student body president, it has been instilled in me to view things from different perspectives,” Hoyte said. “We have students both internationally, locally and domestically. This decision will cause them to adjust their plans, and that may be unfortunate.”
Even with the stress of not knowing the future plans of their campuses, and the possible changes each of these students may need to make moving forward, Hoyte, Tesauro and Anderson are all aware of the importance of remaining patient and understanding while the governor and their campuses make these challenging decisions for the SUNY students safety.
“For my school specifically, I do applaud Binghamton President Harvey Stenger for giving us a breakdown for his plans if the spread of COVID-19 got worse in March.” Tesauro said. “However, he has never been very communicative to the students or kept them in the loop in a timely fashion. It was also evident that the U.S. had no contingency plans in the event of a pandemic. In my opinion, Cuomo handled it the best he could under the circumstances, but communication and planning was abysmal.”
Hoyte believes that during this extended stay away from campus, SUNY schools should not only consider the safety of students in terms of the global pandemic, but also with the disproportionate deaths of Black people in America, due to the lack of healthcare and police brutality in minority communities.
“We must ensure Black people’s safety upon return to campus,” Hoyte said.
There are many factors that Gov. Cuomo and the SUNY campuses must take into consideration before making their final decision on whether or not to reopen for the upcoming semester. Students understand the risk of opening too soon, but many rely on their campuses and it’s resources to ensure positive academic results, and are frustrated with the apparent lack of communication between them and their campuses during these unprecedented times.
“The decision to reopen SUNY schools may seem late to some, but it is necessary to ensure safety among all of our colleges across the state.” Hoyte said.