March 12, 2020

STELLA | The S*** Hath Hitteth the Fan

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Well, shit most definitely hit the fan earlier this week. Coronavirus has made American universities enter unprecedented protocols, with Cornell joining others in cancelling all in-person classes for the semester. Seniors did not expect this for their last few weeks at school, and students who live in CDC level 3 countries must petition in order to have a place to live if they choose to remain at Cornell. Who knows how possible it will be to get back to Italy, South korea, Iran or China in the coming weeks. I can’t imagine the stress Cornell’s extreme decision has put many of its students  under. None of us knew how the situation would play out, but I don’t think anyone expected this.

This is the third version of this article I’m writing, since institutional and governmental reactions have erupted into unknown territories in the last two days. It was only two weeks ago that Italy jumped from under ten cases to over 300 in 48 hours. Now, New York City, Seattle and the Bay Area face states of emergency. A lot of people say that they want to be a part of history. But being a part of the biggest global pandemic in the last century seems like some sort of cruel joke. Couldn’t we have just discovered Atlantis?

Freshmen are finding themselves with a wild end to their first year, and students who aren’t in Cornell housing are uncertain whether to stay home, or continue living at the outrageously priced houses and apartments they’ve already paid for. Of course, Cornell probably won’t offer any reimbursements, but with many other universities making the same call, it’s not surprising that Cornell switched everything online.

Considering there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tompkins County, the University’s decision seems way too drastic, but extreme measures are taken when the apocalypse falls in our laps. I’m close to moving with a friend to an isolated cabin somewhere in Greenland. Time to stock up on canned foods, and more importantly Irish whiskey — the essentials for the end of the world.

It’s been eery being in Europe for this rapidly evolving pandemic. Kids in Italy have already gone home, tons of people are cancelling flights and people wander the streets in masks.

My mom raised me a proud germaphobe, so I’ve been excessively washing my hands since before I could reach the handles to the faucet. Keeping clean has been drilled into me, so I like to think I’m well prepared for the apocalypse — as well as one can be, at least. But it’s not just me that I have to worry about. Living in international student housing, people in my building are traveling constantly, making the most of their time abroad. Last week was Trinity College’s spring break. An entire hotel in the Canary Islands, right where two of my apartment mates traveled to, had been placed under quarantine. I texted them seeing if it was the island they were staying on, more out of concern for myself … a shared kitchen is the Mecca for coronavirus.

But enough with the pity party. Nobody wants to hear a wallower  — feeling sorry for yourself is an unattractive quality. At least that’s what my mom tells me (the same one who wouldn’t let me take public transportation until I was in middle school).

Cornell has made a lot of attempts to make its students abroad feel more comfortable, which is a bit surprising coming from the school that recently celebrated cutting its wait time for a mental health appointment from 37 days to 15. On March 6th, all of us received the same email from Cornell. An option to come home if we didn’t feel comfortable staying where we were anymore (mainly directed at students in Europe). Sweet, right? But looking closer, once again Cornell looks good on paper, but without truly benefiting their students.

As we all know by now, the students that were studying in Italy have all long since come home. It wasn’t until recently, however, that Cornell began working with them so they could finish their semesters and earn credit. As Junior Emily Addis states in her own column about leaving Rome, “although the University originally said they would work with us if we wished to return to classes, on Tuesday I was informed that if my program failed to offer online classes I would have to take a leave of absence from the university”.

It is reassuring of Cornell to give its students the option of coming home, and the gesture was a good-natured one. The execution, however, was not as well received. This email sent students abroad into a frenzy. Not only did we have to decide whether or not to leave our respective locations, we were given a mere six days to do so. Either we come home immediately to take the (now offered) online classes for potential credit, or we risk it all and stay. If we stay, it seemed it would be entirely dependent on our international universities offering online credit for us to finish our semesters.

The offer Cornell gave us sounded more like an ultimatum rather than a friendly, neighborly ‘come on over, we’re having a barbecue!’ You may be thinking: at least we got a choice. And at first, we did. Being in Ireland, the decision was easier for me than it was for others. I wasn’t going to come home. The real scare isn’t getting it myself, it’s passing it onto someone that could be seriously affected by it, either due to age or a preexisting autoimmune deficiency. I’d bite the bullet on some plane tickets I previously purchased and limit my travels, there’s not much else to do. The virus is getting bad at home anyways, so there’s not a lot of reason for safety to go back.

My decision was made. I wasn’t going home. Thanks, but no thanks Cornell. Not until I’ve accomplished what I came here to do. What most Cornellians go abroad to do. Forget how to school and spend time seeing the world instead (barring certain locations). I’ve seen London. I was going to see France. Go back to the states? No chance. 38 percent of Americans refuse to buy Corona beer now (investigative journalism!). The U.S. didn’t sound like a country I wanted to return to. Well the gift of choice didn’t last long.

Enter Trump: I’m so sorry, Cornell, I didn’t mean it. Please take me back! One day after I told Cornell I wouldn’t be coming back, the U.S. hit large parts of Europe with travel bans, leading to my and many other programs’ cancellations. Headed back to the land of the free, but I barely have a ticket home and mom says I can’t leave the house.

I’m now again left to decide whether to take Cornell’s online courses that won’t match up with the major and elective requirements I was taking here, or risk it all and wait to see if Trinity College moves their finals online. If I bet incorrectly, a fifth year is headed my way. As tantalizing as an extra semester of regulated social life, seasonal depression and college-required math classes sounds (math is for squares … get it?), I think $35 thousand dollars is a little out of my price range.


AJ Stella is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]Stellin’ It Like It Is runs every other Friday this semester.