Remaining students asked to leave campus by end of May

By Abigail Chang

Courtesy of Meili Huang
Unless approved to stay longer, students currently living on campus will move out of their residence halls by the end of May.

The last day that students remaining at the college — roughly 70 in total — can stay on campus is May 31, according to an email sent to those students on Monday by Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Baishakhi Taylor. However, Taylor wrote that some students may be approved to stay beyond that date “in cases of exceptional personal circumstances.”

Students were told to contact their Commons Deans with questions about travel plans, financial assistance and the possibility of remaining on campus beyond the end of the month. The Student Life team, the Senior Leadership Group, International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) staff and the Middlebury College physician were involved in making the decision, according to the email.

Derek Doucet, senior associate dean of students, said in an email to The Campus that the school considered several factors, including the evolving public health picture, the lack of student employment and internship opportunities on campus, uncertainty about when staff and faculty could return and that the college’s summer programs — such as Language Schools — will be remote this year.

Commons Deans and ISSS staff are currently working to advise students as they make plans for the summer. ISSS has held two Zoom meetings since the Monday announcement, providing more information to international students about summer internship opportunities and fielding questions about move-out and travel.

Though they were not officially notified until Monday, some on-campus students learned they might be asked to leave by the end of the month during an ISSS Zoom meeting on May 7. Rena Gao ’23, who did not attend the meeting but was in the room with a friend who did, said the departure date did not sound definite at that point, but meeting attendees were encouraged to plan for such a possibility.

“From then, we were hoping that it was not true, but we were still kind of looking into outside campus housing alternatives,” Gao said.

Gao is planning to attend the online Language Schools this summer and hopes to stay in an apartment in the town of Middlebury rather than returning home to China. She plans to contact her dean to see if the school can help pay for off-campus housing, but said she will likely try to rent an apartment regardless.

Even if Gao wanted to fly home, doing so would be challenging. Meili Huang ’23, who plans to live with family friends in California, said flights from the U.S. to China are infrequent and often end up getting cancelled.

David Dong ’23, who also lives in China, shared very similar concerns about flying home.

“It’s not impossible, but first, flight tickets are so expensive, and secondly, you know, flights are being constantly canceled,” he said. “So, even if I book my flight ticket, I’m not sure if I can really go back.”

Dong is optimistic about being approved to stay on campus beyond May 31, but plans to look for off-campus options as well. He noted that finding housing in town may become difficult given the number of on-campus students who are now searching.

Jiaqi Li ’22 said she started looking into renting a place off campus over March break, when approved students were still uncertain if they could stay on campus beyond April 5. Though she put her search on hold after hearing she could stay for the rest of the semester, Li said she picked it up again in April and now has plans to visit a place she found.

“I was always considering the option of living off campus because I was thinking that I have to consider every possibility,” she said.

Even so, Li said she was shocked that students were asked to leave campus by the end of the month, noting that students have only three weeks to make travel arrangements and that the announcement came at the beginning of finals week.

Other students were also surprised by the timing of the email. Cheko Mkocheko ’22 said he had originally expected the school to provide information about how long students could stay on campus by mid-April. 

For Mkocheko, going home is off the table. A resident of Tanzania, Mkocheko said there are currently no direct flights available from the U.S. and the countries where he normally could have caught a connecting flight are only allowing their citizens to fly in.

With no family in the U.S., Mkocheko is hoping the school will approve his request to stay on campus for the summer, though he is also exploring off-campus options. He noted some of the added expenses and difficulties that come with renting an apartment.

“It looks like a good option for three months until you think about the fact that you have to buy furniture for the first time,” he said. “You have to stock food, and also you have to worry about all these things that you’re not prepared for.”

Over spring break in March, the school implemented several measures to enforce social distancing among the students still on campus, including relocating them to three dorms with halls filled to half-capacity. Doucet said any students approved to remain on campus will likely see another round of residence hall consolidations along with other changes the school is still discussing.

“The level of services on campus will be commensurate with the number of students who would be here, with emphasis placed on maintaining student safety and well-being,” Doucet said in an email to The Campus.

Doucet acknowledged that every student on campus has unique personal circumstances and that student safety continues to be the most important factor, though he said the school does need to minimize the number of students on campus.

“We’re here to help students think creatively around their summer plans,” he said. “But we also realize that for some, there may be no reasonable alternative to remaining on campus, and no student will be required to leave without a safe alternative in place.”

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