Since COVID-19 first touched down in Upstate New York, Saratoga Living has been covering the virus and its impact on the Saratoga Springs community closely on saratogaliving.com. One way we’ve gotten the stories of real Saratogians dealing with the crisis out is through our “What It’s Like” series, in which we interview real people about their experiences, or tell stories from our own perspective, as Capital Region residents. So far, we’ve covered what it’s like grocery shopping, being a doctor, being a service industry business owner, being a parent who believes your child has COVID-19 and being a nurse during the epidemic. The story that follows is the next installment in our “What It’s Like” series, written from the perspective of one of Saratoga Living‘s interns from Skidmore College, Simone Teague.
On March 6, I packed up by bags, watered my plants a little more than usual and left Skidmore College for the start of my senior year spring break. After a demanding week filled with presentations, project proposals and essays (a.k.a. midterm week), I was more than ready to get off campus. I was heading home to Poughkeepsie, with plans to see friends, skateboard and leave the country for the first time in my life. I was excited. Little did I know that the next time I’d set foot on the campus I’ve lived on since 2016 would be my last as a Skidmore student.
Skidmore announced its decision to switch to online learning on March 12, the Thursday of spring break. In other words, we’d be completing the rest of our work for the semester from home. That same day, an anonymous Instagram user created the account @howdoyoufeelskidmore and began following students, myself included. The first post on the account was an abstract picture with the caption, “Hello — writing is catharsis. Public catharsis is good too. Tell us, what are you feeling? Respond to the Story and we’ll post your response for all to see. We’ll keep you anonymous so speak uninhibitedly.” And speak the students did. The anonymous user only posted for two days—the account has been silent since March 14—but it amassed 558 followers and posted screenshots of 179 story replies, documenting the student body’s initial reaction.
Also on the 12th, students received strict instructions from the college about when and how we were allowed to move out, broken down by our region of permanent residence. We were told that Skidmore would begin disposing of anything left in on-campus housing beginning March 22, giving us just a week to figure out how to retrieve all of our belongings. “The move out dates are super constricting, especially to kids who don’t have cars, etc,” one student wrote to @howareyoufeelingskidmore. Another wrote that he or she was “feeling stuck across the country with skid threatening to throw out my sh–.”
There are still 200 students living on campus, all of whom were required to fill out an application to request permission to stay. The application was due March 14—just two days after we learned we had to move. In an email to the students, the college stated that “late requests cannot be considered,” and that students whose requests were denied could appeal “only if there is new or additional information that was not provided in the original request.” A student told @howareyoufeelingskidmore that “international students are being rejected in their request to stay on campus,” adding that they “feel homeless.”
In addition to housing insecurity, for many, leaving campus also meant leaving a source of income. A student shared with @howareyoufeelingskidmore that he or she was “freaking out cause I work 3 jobs on campus to support myself.” I worked two jobs and paid for all of my living expenses at Skidmore. Leaving Saratoga has left me unemployed during a time when no one is hiring. I’m staying with my parents, along with my younger brother and his girlfriend, and all of us are surviving off my mother’s income; she’s a grocery store manager, which makes her an essential (but extremely vulnerable) employee.
Feeling like the school left us to fend for ourselves, students got to work figuring out how to support one another. During the first few days following the announcement to go remote, students were almost exclusively posting information about resources to help one another move on social media. A petition addressing the collective concerns about the welfare of need-based financial aid students and international students, created in part by senior Jessica Ndrianasy, also circulated social media. When it was presented to the administration, the original stringent move-out dates were relaxed. Currently, the Student Government Association is running a COVID-19 fund-distribution survey to identify students who need immediate assistance to secure basic necessities, such as food and housing. The survey is not affiliated with the college. In an update released March 31, Skidmore President Philip Glotzbach directed alumni to a Student Emergency Fund, where they can donate money to current students in need of support.
On March 17, a Skidmore employee tested positive for COVID-19. On the 20th, the college announced that in compliance with New York State, all nonessential employees, including professors, should stay home. Classes resumed March 23 (online, of course), but that didn’t mean a new normal was immediately established. How classes are structured—the technology, the schedule and the leniency—has been left up to each individual professor, many of whom have never taught online before.
Many professors are relying heavily on Zoom, a video conferencing platform (that freezes and crashes multiple times each session). Others are posting questions for students to respond to on Blackboard, an online application used by many professors, even when classes are held in person. One of my professors has been uploading pre-recorded lectures to Blackboard. Both the school and professors have expressed their commitment to flexibility and to ensuring seniors graduate on time. The school is allowing all courses to be taken Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (a.k.a. Pass/Fail), rather than for letter grades, and many professors are abandoning previous policies of marking down late work. These are great measures, but as Sarah Maacha ’20 stated, “I don’t need an extension; I need this to stop.”
President Glotzbach also addressed the topic of Commencement, a particularly important one for us seniors, in his March 31 update. “In recognition of this reality, I am sorry to have to inform you that we cannot hold Commencement or Reunion as we traditionally have,” he wrote. “In the coming weeks, we will assemble a working group of students and other members of the Skidmore community to help plan an exciting, reimagined Commencement that will occur when the time is right.”
At this time, Skidmore has promised refunds for room and board to appear in students accounts by May 1. The refunds are dependent on individual financial aid packages. The school, however, has not discussed refunding students for parking passes, which cost $110 per semester. The school has also not communicated whether any adjustments in the cost of tuition will be made, something that students find particularly troubling. (Tuition alone at Skidmore costs about $58,000/year.) As a student shared with @howareyoufeelingskidmore, “we don’t pay 70k a year to stare at a laptop.”
Skidmore College did not immediately return Saratoga Living‘s request for comment.