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‘It’s Really a Question of Survival’: Low-Income Students React to BC’s Closure

When Chantal Sanchez, MCAS ’20, received the news that Boston College was closing the residence halls, she had more on her mind than missing Senior Week and her college graduation. Sanchez, who is homeless, also had to deal with the anxiety and uncertainty of figuring out where she would live for the rest of the semester.

“I didn’t really have a place to stay because I was banking on being able to stay here for the end of graduation,” Sanchez said. “There was no option for me to go anywhere else.”

The University announced on March 11 that it would be moving classes online and giving students four days to move out of the residence halls—though students could apply for exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Some low-income students have expressed dissatisfaction with BC’s process and the way it has communicated with students.

“I think their execution was horrible, completely,” said Reayana Kabir, MCAS ’23. “I feel like if BC had given us at least a week, it would have been a lot better. But they told us in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. Just the way that they did it, I think it created a lot of panic among the student body.”

The quick move-out has placed stress on some students with unstable housing situations. Kabir said that college can be a safe place away from stressful home situations for some students, and needing to return home can be challenging. 

“I definitely have friends who are in abusive households and who don’t feel safe where they are, and they weren’t necessarily able to apply for an extension because of their family,” Kabir said. “And so going back to those situations is definitely difficult, and college was like an escape for them. So having to be forced back so abruptly, that was extremely difficult.”

Several University offices provide support for low-income and AHANA+ students. Montserrat and Learning to Learn serve low-income students and first-generation students, respectively, and the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (BAIC) supports AHANA+ students.

“The mission of the BAIC is to care for and to graduate our students,” said Rev. Michael Davidson, S.J., director of the BAIC. “And so whether it be coronavirus or whatever, our role is to make sure that they are cared for here, that they are loved for and supported here, and that they graduate and they become meaningful citizens. Our mission will not be changed because of the coronavirus. As a matter of fact, the coronavirus will make our mission even stronger.”

One resource provided by the BAIC, Davidson said, is the Sister Thea Bowman Closet, which provides food and toiletries to students in need. Even with the closure, the BAIC remains open, and employees come in to work.

“They have my number to call me if they’re having a financial situation or something is going on personally and they can’t talk to anybody else, my number is available for them,” Davidson said.

Students have also expressed gratitude for the support offices such as the BAIC provide but have asked for the University to do more.

“The Learning to Learn Office has done a great job, the Montserrat Office, the BAIC, they have helped me throughout these four years in general,” Sanchez said. “So I already knew they were going to be the number one resources during this time. … There’s a good amount of resources here, I just wish it also came from the Boston College administration.”

“Montserrat, Learning to Learn, and BAIC, these offices are not prepared for any of this, so I don’t blame them,” said Hoa Bui, MCAS ’21, in an interview. “They wouldn’t have the resources if we come to them at this point.”

Davidson, however, said he was grateful for the support the BAIC receives from the University and the resources BC provides to students in need.

“I’d like to give a shout-out to the administration for their quick and great support of all the students. I want to give a shoutout to Mission and Ministry and the way they help the students. … It’s a sad moment for [students], but at the same time they know they have a community here that supports them, and I saw that over these few days,” Davidson said.

Students said their main issue with the University has not been the closure but rather the way BC handled the closure.

“I understand why they did it, and multiple schools around the country are doing the same, and it makes sense and that’s fine,” Sanchez said. “And they gave us the option to stay if you couldn’t leave. What’s making it so difficult on top of not being able to go anywhere else even if I wanted to is the matter of how they have done this closure.”

Students who were granted an extension will be housed in residence halls on Upper Campus, where dorms have communal bathrooms and no kitchen. Students who lived in dorms with a kitchen would need a meal plan to purchase food from the dining halls. Bui, who was granted an extension to live on campus, still does not know if the University will help pay for a meal plan.

“We’re rushing to get food, we’re wondering how we’re even going to eat, we’re talking to people and nobody knows anything,” Bui said.

Remi Akinyemi, MCAS ’23, took issue with the sudden need to move out after little communication from BC in the days before the announcement.

“I feel the switch from silence to then giving us four days to pack up our stuff was very callous and really inconsiderate,” Akinyemi said.

Sanchez, who also takes classes at Boston University, said that BC should have communicated more with students, contrasting the responses between the two universities.

“The closure itself was done really improperly,” Sanchez said. “… Every email I got from BC felt so dry and without any empathy in the least.”

Featured Image by Leo Wang / Heights Staff

March 20, 2020