As news regarding COVID-19 rapidly updates, colleges and universities everywhere are faced with the challenge of adapting. Nationwide, campuses have closed and courses have moved online where students are continuing their education while also dealing with struggles in their personal lives due to the pandemic.
Last month, six Bay Area counties were issued a shelter-in-place order, advising residents to remain home as often as possible unless for essential activities, such as work, buying basic necessities and exercise. All public areas, such as parks and beaches, were closed until further notice and a ban was placed on all “non-essential” gatherings. Businesses that were “non-essential” were to send their workers home, leading to layoffs.
On Mar. 16, Mills College announced to students that the campus would close at midnight, following the shelter-in-place order, until April 7. The campus remains closed until further notice due to the extension of the shelter-in-place order until May. All campus events were cancelled or postponed, including the senior commencement ceremony.
As Mills began its transition to remote learning, students left campus to be with their families during the time of uncertainty. However for many other students, this was not an option due to financial barriers, immunocompromised or elder family members, or campus being their year-round home.
On April 2, the dean of students informed residents of a $3,000 credit available to those who could vacate their rooms by April 5. The credit would aid moving, storage and transportation costs for students who returned their keys by the deadline.
The following day, students were sent a “Spring 2020 Living on Campus and Move Out Guide During COVID-19,” which addressed health precautions for current residents, steps to take if a person is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or believes they’ve been exposed, disposal/recycling protocols, options for on-campus storage, a new housing credit policy, and options for summer housing.
On page two of the guide, Mills informs students that spring semester housing will remain open for as long as possible in accordance with the “CDC, local, state and federal governmental orders.” Students will be able to continue to live in residence halls through their Residential Agreement that ends May 17. Those living in the Underwood Apartments have a Residential Agreement until June 15. Residents are then encouraged to apply for summer housing, where the application is available on the Mills Portal through April 23. It is noted that summer housing offerings are “subject to change” due to new developments in the pandemic.
Many students are dealing with the severe effects of the pandemic and are concerned about the ability to afford summer housing and the potential of becoming homeless. For many students, moving out of their campus residence is not ideal due to financial insecurity, not having another home to go to, their home being unsafe, inability to find secure housing quickly, their homes being in “high-risk” areas and other issues.
On April 10, a senior undergraduate student at Mills created a public petition addressing their concerns about student safety and housing during the pandemic. With almost 200 signatures, the petition provides a timeline of official communication between the dean of students and residents, as well as lists the hardships students are facing that prevent them from being able to leave campus or afford payments for summer housing. The petition calls for an alternative.
“We insist that the administration consider allowing students to continue ‘sheltering in place’ until the shelter-in-place order is lifted,” the petition reads. “In addition, those who aren’t graduating and will be back in the fall should have an option to remain on campus until their fall housing assignment is ready at a nominal rental fee for that extra time.”
That same day, another petition circulated amongst students, faculty, staff and alumnae calling for solidarity while addressing the same concerns. It was created separately by an MFA graduate student and others. Constructed for the Mills’ administration to respond internally within the community, the petition calls for a response by Wednesday, April 15 at 8 a.m.
“We, the undersigned current residents/tenants of Mills College campus, current graduate and undergraduate students of Mills College, faculty, staff and proud alumnae/alumni of Mills College,” the petition reads, “stand together in solidarity with those currently living on Mills College campus who do not have anywhere else to go in light of the realities of this pandemic.”
Mills has not evicted any students from their residences or announced any plans for removing students due to lack of payment; however, it is unclear to current residents if they will be able to remain on-campus are if they do not set up a payment plan for summer housing.
“If two separate petitions go up on the same day 8 hours apart (one public, one private) from two separate groups, not in communication at a small institution, it’s not the people that have a problem, it’s the institution,” the MFA graduate student said. “We deserve clarity and security. Let the people being paid for their labor figure out the details. ”
Amidst the transition to virtual education, students are also concerned about whether they will receive tuition, campus fees, or course fees refunds now that circumstances have drastically changed. Students no longer have access to campus facilities or studios, nor are many students using their AC transit passes. At this time, Mills has not informed students of decisions regarding term balances or issuing refunds.
As the end of the semester draws near, residents continue to juggle their educational responsibilities while dealing with the effects of a global pandemic. Currently, Mills is providing housing and dining for students still living on-campus. The Tea Shop, catered by Bon Apetit, provides boxed meals with to-go utensils for students during a brunch and dinner session every day of the week. Those with a 15-plus meal plan are offered to swipe their ID cards twice to make up for the one meal they are losing per week due to the new dining schedule. Students are able to continue using their meal plans and Tea Shop points.
Bon Apetit also now offers fresh groceries and more shelf-safe foods. Students can find weekly grocery lists posted by Bon Apetit in the Student Forum. The Mills Pantry has expanded into Cowell but will have limited hours due to its dependency on availability from the Alameda Community Food Bank. For more information about the pantry contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions regarding Tea Shop dining, students can contact Merilee McCormick at email@example.com.
Founders Commons remains closed until further notice.
Many students believe that the way this situation unfolds will affect how many continuing students return in the fall and the number of incoming first-years and transfers. The Mills campus has long been a place for progressive, social justice-oriented students to call home.