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Students face uncertainty about required departure plans

September 24, 2020

All students living on campus are required to disclose their departure plans to the administration by October 2, Dean of Students Kristina Bethea Odejimi announced in an email to these students on September 17. The announcement has heightened feelings of anxiety and uncertainty among students for whom returning home is not a possibility and who are still unsure whether they will have an opportunity to apply to stay on campus during the winter holidays or the spring semester.

“I understand the logistical concerns about this, so it’s just pretty complicated,” said Oliver Wang ’24 in a video interview with the Orient. “I understand the part about after Thanksgiving—it’s a holiday. But then [for] next semester, a lot of students…actually have an ability to stay home and study, but I have no home to go to, so I thought I would be higher prioritized. But I don’t know for now.”

Wang has U.S. citizenship, but his family lives in China. China’s COVID-19-related border restrictions bar U.S. citizens from entering the country, making Wang unable to rejoin his family at this time. His mother and younger brother are also U.S. citizens, but his father is a Chinese citizen, so he is not currently able to enter the United States.

For Bryant Ung ’24, returning home to Cambodia is theoretically possible, but doing so would be expensive and could expose him to COVID-19.

“It’s actually very hard for me to make any decisions right now because, first thing first, it’s my first time in America, and I don’t really have that much connection here,” said Ung in a video interview with the Orient. “If I were to fly back home, I feel like it’s a very risky move.”

Due to Cambodia’s COVID-19 regulations, Ung, who had to return to Cambodia from Thailand when COVID-19 hit Southeast Asia, had to quarantine and share one bathroom with eight people arriving in Cambodia from all over the world. He considers himself lucky not to have contracted COVID-19 then, and he does not want to take the same risk again. Additionally, he would prefer not to spend the significant sum of money required to cover the flight and associated costs of quarantine food and housing, particularly given that his family’s financial situation has been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Both Wang and Ung are in communication with deans, proctors and friends about their planning processes and are brainstorming ideas that may enable them to be on campus in the spring. So far, they have not received any definite answers about whether that will be possible.

Wang mentioned to his deans that he would be comfortable staying with the family of a friend in South Portland during the holidays but not for the entire spring. In response, they encouraged him to stay there next semester anyway.

“Post-Thanksgiving is OK to me, but the entire next semester, I just—it doesn’t feel right,” Wang said.

For Ung, due to the time difference and internet connectivity issues at home, he feels that his only option, if he were not able to stay on campus, would be to return to Cambodia and take time off. However, after already taking time off in high school, he would prefer to enroll.

“I don’t want to defer, because one of the reasons I came to America is actually not to defer,” he said.

In an email to the Orient, Odejimi encouraged any students who do not yet have plans to reach out to their deans. Those first-year students who may not have had an opportunity to communicate about home environments not conducive to learning will have the chance to speak with their deans in the coming days.

“Unlike upper-class students who are currently on campus, first-year students who might fit in this category did not need to request housing prior to this fall,” Odejimi wrote. “Here again, students must be in touch with either Dean Quinby or Dean Rendall if they anticipate housing challenges. Currently, first-year deans are conducting one-on-one meetings with each member of the first-year class.”

In response to a question about any financial assistance availability, Odejimi simply noted differences between this fall and the sudden March departure.

“Unlike March, students have had ample time to plan for the campus closing on November 21, or for an unforeseen sudden closing,” she wrote.

Odejimi also clarified that the Supplemental and Emergency Funding is not available for departure-related expenses due to donor restrictions, not decisions on the part of the College.

Editor’s Note: Bryant Ung’ 24 is an Orient photographer.


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One comment:

  1. Class of '15 says:

    “Unlike March, students have had ample time to plan for the campus closing on November 21, or for an unforeseen sudden closing,” she wrote.

    Seriously? Yes, we should expect college students to do their very best to plan ahead. No, we cannot ask them to PREDICT THE FUTURE! This comment is reckless, lacks perspective and empathy, and makes me concerned for the students that work with this dean. Does this dean not realize that these students’ plans are likely highly dependent on the state of the world at a given time and that this is changing daily? How can they possibly plan ahead in this context? Bowdoin didn’t cause the pandemic, but it sure did put them in the position they are in now. And it’s their job to HELP THEM and FACILITATE their housing search. Not everyone makes a best-friend-whose-family-they-can-stay-with during their first year of college, or even their second, third, or fourth.

    Students are counting on you (and the college is getting lots and lots of money) to treat them way better.

    Shame on you, Bowdoin Deans. Do your job.

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