Harsh consequences of F&M’s evictions for students with unsafe homes, Op-Ed

By Julia Kopala & Anonymous Co-Author || Contributing Writers

In attempts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, universities across the US have been forced to end their operations. However, each institution has handled this situation, in terms of communication and support to its community, very differently. When F&M decided to conduct online classes for two weeks after Spring Break, they demanded all students return home until further notice. Plenty of students cried and lamented being away from their loved ones in college, their parties on Friday nights, and face-to-face interactions. Unfortunately for many of us, however, socializing is the least of our worries. Our main issue is the way that F&M has forced students to return home without leaving room for those who cannot. By doing so, they assumed that every student has a primary residence that is safe and cohesive to their academic success and mental wellness. But that is not always true. When a university closes its door to students, it displaces those who are disproportionately at risk of economic, emotional, and physical danger. 

Students like us live a very different reality at home than at school. 

JULIA KOPALA—My mother suffers from severe bipolar disorder, which flares up in unexpected moments. Spouts of yelling and throwing objects across the kitchen make me fear for my safety, even though she tells me she loves me everyday. My father, in recent years, began to cope with his parents’ death and the stresses of his broken marriage with a drink. I’ve personally found my father utterly inebriated on the living room floor. 

ANONYMOUS—I am a closeted queer woman in a family that believes that homosexuality is a sin, that we are currently being destroyed by God’s wrath because of it. Coronavirus is, of course, the gays’ fault. Family dinners begin with vehement refusals to watch the new Disney film that features a lesbian character and end with rambles about Sodom and Gomorra. My sisters call each other “homo” and “fag” just to get under each other’s skin. I shut up and eat my potatoes, censoring myself to survive. 

After teasing us with false expectations that we would be able to remain on campus, they went back on their word and lost all of our trust. Can you understand now why F&M’s decision to ultimately evacuate students was so harmful? We scrambled all night, crying, packing, calling professors and scholarship programs to figure out our forced exit plan—in under two days. 

We relived our trauma by composing our petitions, begging the administration to let us stay. We explained what President Altmann once called “extenuating circumstances.” Yet the Administration denied them—seemingly without even reading them. In one short, impersonal email, they denied not only our agency but also invalidated the entire existence of our suffering. Even if they were read, we were left to dry and to our own devices to figure out what’s the next step. 

A—When I returned home, so did the panic attacks and nightmares. I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t feel loved unconditionally. When denying my identity is the only way to keep a roof over my head, this cannot be called home. 

Little to no support was given from the Administration. By this point, we didn’t expect emotional support. We expected at least logistical assistance. But no, no one in the administration reached out with suggestions on alternative housing options. No one offered to help with the financial burden of flying across the country or renting an Airbnb. 

Sometimes we found solutions on our own. And other times, we were forced to go home—even when our professors called the college’s decision to evict us, knowing its dangers, “indefensible.” And even after we found those solutions, the College continued to prove their inadequacy to be trusted… 

JK—To top it all off, a day after I moved into an apartment in Lancaster where I began to feel safe and comfortable, the Housing Director emailed me asking of my whereabouts because she detected me using the College’s WiFi. The school had the audacity to monitor my Internet use to see if I had indeed left campus. In the midst of a global pandemic, a major Administrator [was focused on] when I logged in and out of eduroam. She could have been communicating with and reassuring the international students who got approved to stay. Instead, I felt as though she was completely and utterly invading my privacy and harassing me even after I cooperated with their demands to leave on campus housing.

With all of that being said, what responsibility does F&M have to protect its most vulnerable students, especially when “home” is not home for them? Can we trust them to provide us transparency and compassion in their words? Can we even trust them to provide basic logistical support? Though F&M has failed us, how can the administration better support its students in the future rather than focus on their own liability issues?

Senior Julia Kopala is a Contributing Writer. Her email is jkopala@fandm.edu

The second author elected to be anonymous due to undisclosed personal reasons.

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