As Macalester prepares to effectively shut down its campus, the college is working to figure out how many students will be allowed to remain in campus housing — and where those students would go if they were to get sick.
The college has required that all students leave their college housing by March 30. Students who paid for room and board on campus through the end of the year stand to have their account credited in the amount of $2,435.65 if they depart.
But for some students, returning home is either not possible or not preferable. Students who wish to remain in their college housing, however, can petition to stay by filling out a form before the end of business on March 23.
A group of college administrators is reviewing those petitions on a case-by-case basis. It began notifying students of decisions on March 19 and will continue to do so through March 24 — giving students who are not allowed to remain in college housing a minimum of six days to depart.
Given the number of moving pieces, the petition process has been confusing at points. For instance, after submitting their petitions to stay in their on campus housing, international students received emails from International Student Programs (ISP) leadership with information on next steps.
The email floated the possibility of international students moving to an off campus residence in the area and read that, “because of health risks and staffing concerns, Residential Life currently have not answered the question: ‘Will any students be allowed to stay on campus?’”
On Thursday, however, in an email to The Mac Weekly, Dean of Students DeMethra LaSha Bradley wrote that “Students who are approved (via petition) to remain in on campus housing are guaranteed to remain in on-campus housing.”
Staffing concerns still remain. Residential Assistants are not expected to stay in their campus housing, even if students remain on their floor or in their building, and have been told to depart campus as soon as possible. Many have already left for home.
There is also, of course, the possibility that a Macalester student living in college housing will contract COVID-19 and need to be quarantined — a difficult proposition in a shared living space like a dormitory.
In a letter to the college community on Friday afternoon, Medical Director Steph Walters wrote that “campus leadership is actively working to develop protocols for isolation and quarantine on campus, including for our residential students and staff.”
In a separate statement to The Mac Weekly, Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Communications Julie Hurbanis wrote that “the college is making plans for a dedicated quarantine space and will share that update with the community in the coming days.”
Multiple Macalester students have tested positive for COVID-19, but they are all currently recovering off campus.
ISP remained open and fully staffed last week, with officials there helping students file nonresident and state tax returns — some 200 over the last several days — and trying to aid students’ decision-making processes about whether to stay on campus or go elsewhere.
According to Director of International Student Programs Aaron Colhapp, roughly 150 of Macalester’s 315 international students have petitioned to remain in college housing — a very high percentage given that a number of international students live off campus.
So far, the response from the college has been promising.
“I feel pretty good, without knowing the exact number [of student petitions granted], because no one who had a bad situation has come to me — and they would,” Colhapp said. “I saw 30 people in person yesterday, and we had 80 students come in for taxes yesterday.”
Domestic students have reported positive outcomes from the petition process as well.
Josie Otter ’21 petitioned to remain in campus housing for reasons related to her education and health, and wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly that seeing her petition approved “lifted a tremendous weight” off of her shoulders.
“I completed the petition form on Tuesday morning and received word this morning that I was approved to stay on campus,” Otter wrote. “For the first time since finding out that all classes were going online I feel like I can take a deep breath and relax a bit.”
In the early stages of the petition process, ISP was directed “to reach out to host families, alumni and other community partners to see if they can host international students who have petitioned to stay.”
Colhapp said that the response from community members, some of whom are connected with an emerging mutual aid network for Macalester students, was “incredible.”
Nevertheless, all of the students who expressed an interest to ISP in potentially living with a family, professor, or alum have either been approved to stay on campus or made alternative arrangements.
“I can’t tell you how relieved I am that I don’t need to… work with families and figure out what happens if students get ill and don’t [have] to worry about students staying with a strange family during finals,” Colhapp said.
ISP is monitoring a raft of other issues as is. The Department of Homeland Security has relaxed a rule that international students can only take three credits online per semester, solving one problem that had been occupying the office in recent weeks, but others remain.
“The next one that we’re really worried about is called the five month rule,” Colhapp said. “[International students] can leave the country for a temporary stay, which is considered five months or less. If you come in after that, you’re considered out of status and won’t be let in.”
The five month window would necessitate that students either remain in the U.S. for several more weeks and return for the start of the fall semester, or depart now and return several weeks before the start of the fall semester.
But COVID-19-related border closures and entrance requirements have made international travel a risk, in both the long-term and the short-term.
“Is the border going to be closed when [international students] come back? Are they going to have to do a two-week quarantine? If they’re not able to come back for the fall term — you can see what problems that causes,” Colhapp said.
ISP will be staffed by one person at a time this coming week before transitioning fully to Zoom.