This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ZO: How has your university’s response to coronavirus helped or hurt you as a first-generation student?
SA: Going online has helped me along with having the options to stay on campus or leave. They also were planning on having our cafeteria be closed during spring break but because of the outbreak they opened it up and allowed those on meal plans to have free meals. However, our breakfast was minimal on our first day which was disappointing. One thing that has hurt me is that the response of transitioning online was not equitable at all, from struggling professors trying to figure out Zoom to having our coursework stay the exact same as before. It is hard to constantly be using your laptop for class meetings and homework. Luckily I have compassionate professors but I can’t say the same for my peers.
Ultimately, I wish universities were responding in a way that compassion and empathy were at the center of every discussion. Suddenly people don’t have jobs, are stuck on campus, and our international students are struggling to decide between staying on campus or going back home.
ZO: Do you think students should be getting refunds?
SA: Colleges should refund students because this is not what we paid for. I would want a refund of a portion of my tuition with a guarantee it goes directly back to students and doesn’t penalize students at all in relation to paying back scholarships or student loan interests. We’ve already lost enough. I think it’s the least universities can do to pay students back while ensuring university employees like staff, faculty, student workers are also being paid.
ZO: How does being a first-generation student complicate this situation?
SA: First-generation students feel a multitude of stress, especially those from immigrant families. I can only speak for myself, but I think the pressures from family, society, and even yourself can send anyone into a mindset of hopelessness within academia.
Questions like, “How can I focus on school when I need to take care of my family?” and “How will I be able to support myself without a job during this pandemic?” are all over social media. My scholarship program sent out a letter saying a majority of their junior and senior scholars feel unmotivated in their studies. I can only imagine how everyone feels now.
ZO: What do you think are the odds colleges actually give out tuition refunds?
SA: The odds are really low for a refund. I’m not expecting it.
ZO: If not a refund, what would be helpful right now?
SA: Meal points need to roll over at least to next year and those who’re leaving the school should get cash refunds for those points. But other than that, I don’t know what would be helpful if there’s no refund because anything helpful would have monetary value and at that point give us all a refund.
“US colleges scrambled to react to the coronavirus pandemic. Now their very existence is in jeopardy,” by Chris Quintana for USA Today
“College Students Face Loneliness While Stuck On Deserted Campuses,” by Kirk Carapezza for WGBH
“Student Journalists Are Still Reporting on Coronavirus After Schools Shut Down,” by Rainesford Stauffer for Teen Vogue
Thanks for reading,
If you have thoughts on how coronavirus is impacting first-generation college students and would like to talk please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.