New York University students received an email last night from the university's president informing them that residence halls will close on March 22nd and they must move out by then, but preferably within 48 hours.
Previously, NYU told the Inter-Residence Hall Council, which governs the school's residence halls—as recently as March 12th—that dorms would not be closing, only to email students yesterday that they must evacuate.
Later, on Tuesday afternoon, Marc Wais, NYU senior vice president of student affairs, sent a letter to students that says they now have a choice of having their possessions shipped or left locked in their rooms, and that only students who are within day-trip range should return to campus to pack. It keeps in place the request that students should prepare to leave.
There is may be an urgent need for the rooms as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Wais says, "There are significant indications that the state, as part of its contingency planning, is looking at university dormitories as settings for overflow beds from hospitals grappling with a potentially overwhelming numbers of sick patients, and there are other medically-related contingencies for which they are also being eyed."
Editor's note: This story was updated with new information on March 17, 2020. Click here for more coronavirus coverage.
The announcement came as universities across the country are closing their doors and asking students to return home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But for students who may not have somewhere else to go, or lack the money to pay for travel and moving, the sudden request is causing a crisis. Lilly Chin, an MIT student, told The Nation about classmates afraid to return to families that are homophobic or have immunocompromised relatives, or unable to fly to their homes in China and Hong Kong.
Some colleges are offering alternatives to students unable to leave. At Fordham University, for instance, dorm residents are being strongly encouraged to return home, but the university is considering appeals to stay on a case-by-case basis, Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications and special adviser to the president, explained in an email.
Columbia University has also asked that any dorm residents who can leave do so.
"Some students will not be able to leave; to care for them, we need the space to do so," the university's COVID-19 guidance reads. These students were asked to complete a housing status form. Students at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx were also told they could apply for campus housing accommodation.
NYU students unable to move out say there is little recourse for them as of today.
In its email last night, the university says, "the bar will be high" for students seeking exceptions from the order to evacuate and provided students with a housing survey in order to be considered for an exception.
"We weren't able to complete the survey until six hours after it came out," says Noah Hopkins, an NYU sophomore. "And the financial aid office, which is notoriously unforgiving, said it will not consider requests above $500 [for help moving and traveling]."
Another issue, he adds, is that many NYU students are on spring break now, and would have to travel back to New York in order to pack their things and move out, at a time when the CDC is recommending that Americans avoid travel and gathering in groups larger than 10 people.
"If someone gets sick because they said you need to come here, get all your stuff, and leave, it's going to be a big problem," Hopkins says. "They're claiming some unknown NYU employee will box our things up and send them to us if we can't do it ourselves."
NYU's order to its students to move out comes at a time when there is a statewide moratorium on evictions. But this moratorium does not apply to NYU residents, as they are not considered traditional tenants.
"NYU designed its housing system in a way that doesn't give us any protections," Hopkins says. "We sign a housing agreement, not a lease. It can be dissolved at will any time."
A request for comment from NYU's press office has not been returned at this time.
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