Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Students walk down Ho Plaza on Friday afternoon after the University's announcement that classes were suspended effective at 5 p.m.

March 13, 2020

‘I Don’t Know What to Do’: Students Reel as University Announces Class Suspension and Urges Immediate Return Home

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Some screamed. Others sobbed and called their family members. Jack Liufu ’21 said he was “truly shocked.”

Students poured into campus streets, quads and Ho Plaza as they grappled with President Martha E. Pollack’s Friday afternoon email which said the University would suspend classes beginning at 5 p.m. on Friday, urging all students to return home as soon as possible.

“No one knows what is going on,” Liufu said, standing outside Olin Library after he heard the news. “It feels like a sentimental moment. We are waiting for answers and we literally have no idea what is going on.”

Liufu said he was sitting in a linguistics discussion section when Pollack made the announcement. His professor continued the class, but Liufu lamented that he wouldn’t get to say goodbye to his other professors.

Many students must also wrestle with the logistical burden of moving to their permanent residences — two weeks before they originally planned, following Tuesday’s announcement that the semester would continue virtually after spring break.

Angel Nkwain ’21 worried how she would finance her return home, as she digested the news sitting on a rock ledge across from Uris Hall.

“I’m still in initial shock,” Nkwain said. “We had two weeks and now it’s like, get out as soon as possible. Where is that money coming from? How am I getting home? It’s a lot to consider.”

The access fund — administered by the Office of the Dean of Students through the First-Generation and Low-Income Student Support Center — is providing funding for students who need help financing their way home and the transition to virtual instruction.

Student Assembly president Joe Anderson ’20 encouraged students to reach out to the fund and the S.A. during this uncertain time in an email to The Sun.

But Aziza Henry ’21 she said she was “panicking” about storing her belongings, as she stood frozen in the Olin Library lobby.

“I had a scheduled appointment [about storage], but now I am trying to leave earlier because I am from the South,” Henry said, adding that she has already booked a flight to leave campus on Tuesday.

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi said in a subsequent email on Friday that Cornell has “secured a storage solution” for students’ belongings in Ithaca, at no additional cost. Details about the program are forthcoming.

Minutes after Pollack’s email reached students and faculty inboxes, a group of three seniors stood outside Statler Hall, trying to process the reality that their time at Cornell had completely dropped from under their feet.

“I don’t know what to do for the next couple days and weeks,” said Elexa Perlman ’20. She went from “knowing that we had two months, and then two weeks, to then no more classes. It’s really weird.”

Syjah Harris ’20 joined Perlman and James McDonald ’20 as they huddled in shock.

“All the things you look forward to after spending the past three-and-a-half years in upstate New York are just kind of taken away,” Harris said. “Graduation? Slope Day? It’s a mess. I get why they have to do it, but it sucks.”

Other students are grappling with the reality of completing schoolwork and accumulating enough credits to graduate.

Catherine Badding ’20, who stood with Liufu outside Olin Library, said she is worried because she needs exactly 19 credits to graduate Cornell early this year. Badding is heading to graduate school in the fall: There’s no room for error.

Others are digesting what the suspension of classes means, as professors have only just started transitioning to virtual classrooms following Tuesday’s announcement.

While some professors have piloted holding classes over Zoom, others have not, said Angel Nkwain ’21. Whether students will complete their prelims slated to happen during the upcoming weeks also remains uncertain.

“I just don’t like uncertainty,” said Ugochukwu Ukponu ’21, who said she is worried about her planned summer internship and senior year. “I don’t know what to do. [The University] doesn’t even seem sure of what’s going on, so that puts me in some kind of fear, I guess.”

But as panic ensued across campus, other students chose to soak up one of their last and sunny days in Ithaca.

Luis Londono ’21 was taking advantage of the nearly clear skies on Friday’s windy afternoon. He was flying a green kite in the middle of the Arts Quad with a friend after he heard the news — appearing calm in the midst of chaos.

“Students should take this time to center themselves and plan travel home,” Anderson said. “Students who have the ability to get home, who have a safe home environment, and one that isn’t in an outbreak area should use this time to go home and prepare for virtual instruction.”