Will Burke ’21 was carrying his luggage to his new dorm room when he found out that the University would no longer be inviting frosh and sophomores to campus in the winter.
“My friend who was driving me took a look at me and said, ‘Check your email,’ and immediately I knew,’” he said. Burke was one of a handful of Stanford undergraduates, including resident assistants (RAs) and students with special circumstances, who were invited back to campus early. “If I had known this was going to happen earlier, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to come back to campus,” Burke said. “Now I’m here on my own, stranded.”
Stanford’s cancellation of an in-person winter quarter for half of the undergraduate population comes after the University repeatedly reiterated its plans to implement a phased arrival program for frosh, sophomores and students with special circumstances. Days after RAs and students with special circumstances began arriving to campus on Jan. 4, the University reported that 43 students had tested positive for COVID-19, nearly four times the previous high. Stanford announced Saturday that it made its decision “after assessing the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases, the lengthening public health restrictions we are under, and how those restrictions likely will affect the on-campus undergraduate experience this quarter.” Frosh and sophomores without approved special circumstances were expected to move in between Jan. 21 and Jan. 24.
“It’s hard to get this news after expecting to go back for so long,” said Etienne Reche-Ley ’23, who had already travelled from her home in Seattle to the Bay Area to prepare for an on-campus winter quarter. “I don’t think that the administration should have waited this long to tell us, especially because it feels like the timing is really exact.”
Students have until Monday to apply for a leave of absence with a full refund. After the deadline students will be charged prorated tuition based on their days of attendance.
In response to a request for comment on why the University waited until two days before the start of the quarter to cancel plans, spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote that “as had previously been announced, the arrival of frosh and soph students who wished to come to campus for winter quarter was delayed for two weeks.”
While undergraduates with special circumstances and RAs can stay on campus, some students with special circumstances said that the change of plans will still negatively impact them.
“Now I’m sacrificing my sanity and my friends, who I really thought would be the only thing that would get me through this quarter,” Burke said. “I’m not angry that they told frosh and sophomores that they couldn’t come back, I’m angry that they did this 48 hours before classes are set to start and a full week after people with special circumstances moved in, because if the timing was different we would have had the opportunity to figure something out.”
Because some frosh and sophomores may not have applied for housing accommodations, the University announced an extended application period. Students who have not previously applied can submit an application to live on campus by Jan. 17.
Though many students agree that canceling in-person plans is the right decision, students said they are appalled that the University did not realize that a return to campus would be unsafe earlier.
“Shame on the University,” said Kory Gaines ’21, an RA who moved onto campus last week. Gaines said that Stanford “knew it was a bad decision,” adding that “the COVID numbers hadn’t gotten better.” He added that he thinks the decision should have been made “three, four weeks ago,” and it’s now too late.
Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Chief of Staff and RA Jianna So ’21 said that the University’s decision could potentially be damaging for both students already on campus and those who were planning on coming. So wrote that “it is unacceptable that the University is not providing financial support for changes to travel plans or moving support for those who will be rehoused.” (Students on campus will be consolidated into a smaller number of houses following the cancelation. The University will be providing packing materials, but not professional moving services.)
“Student and worker input was not proactively taken into account throughout this process, even though every single decision has directly impacted us and our safety,” So wrote. “ASSU leadership consistently offered our support, but we were not given the opportunity to take part in conversations about reopening. We were only contacted after a decision was made in order to assist with responding to new and exacerbated student concerns.”
Francisco Irizarry ’23, who purchased a plane ticket from North Carolina to Stanford last week, said that he now must rethink the upcoming quarter on short notice.
“We are starting the quarter off on the worst note possible,” Irizarry said. “When we’re going into the quarter, and some of us decided to take heavy course loads hoping that we were going to be on campus, now a lot of us have to switch our schedules around.”
“We’re not going to be in the best mental condition we can be, and now we have one day to figure out how everything changes,” he added.
Frosh and sophomores on and away from campus will have to deal with making and maintaining relationships under different conditions in light of the cancellation. Dwight Hua ’23, who moved into his dorm room Saturday afternoon, said that one of the main reasons he returned to campus this quarter was “the community.”
“And that’s the students,” he said. “That’s my friends, my peers, people in clubs and classes. This whole quarter is going to be so lonely.” Though Hua is optimistic about meeting new people, he added that “it just got a whole lot harder.”
Hua also said that it was “hard to tell” whether Stanford’s on-campus resources were ready to accommodate the major influx of students that would have moved in later this month. The University had previously estimated that the campus population would rise by 4,000 students by the end of January, a number that Hua said would have made staff “very overworked.”
Stanford still plans to bring juniors and seniors back to campus this spring. They also hope to invite frosh and sophomores to campus during the summer quarter, which they believe will be an “important time of connection and reconnection” for the classes of 2023 and 2024.
In the meantime, classes this winter will be offered fully online to students in the same fashion as fall quarter.
“It’s really upsetting that we’re paying full tuition for not the full experience by any means,” Reche-Ley said. “I just feel like the students have been getting the short end of the stick.”
Contact Tammer Bagdasarian at tbag ‘at’ stanford.edu and Benjamin Zaidel at bzaidel ‘at’ stanford.edu