As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Haverford has shifted to online learning for the remainder of the semester. Yet many international students, for whom travelling back home may be costly or impractical, have opted to remain on campus.
The Dining Center continues to serve meals, and college resources such as IITS are still open to the college community. But as COVID-19 cases have multiplied, students have been practicing social distancing, staying in their dorm rooms when possible. Since March 23, all Philadelphia-area residents have been subject to a “stay at home” order issued by Governor Tom Wolf.
“It’s like a family, so everyone’s socially isolating together,” said João Pedro Carvalho ’22.
When Haverford first announced its transition to online courses on March 11, the decision provoked a great deal of confusion. President Wendy Raymond’s message to the campus did not specifically address international students, instead directing people who wished to stay on campus to “contact your dean as soon as possible.”
Dean Denise Allison, head of the Office of International Student Support (ISSO), sent out an email shortly thereafter.
“In short, if you request to leave the U.S., you will be granted an Authorized Early Withdrawal and your SEVIS record will be terminated,” she wrote, referring to the electronic database used by the US government to manage student visa information. “This will affect your performance for this semester in that you will not be getting a grade since the College would consider this a Deans Leave of Absence [sic]. After all, we will be conducting classes, just not in the traditional form.”
Students quickly traded panicked messages, trying to figure out whether they would have to leave Haverford and if that would jeopardize their visa status.
Later that afternoon, Dean of the College Martha Denney clarified that all F-1 student visa holders would in fact be able to remain on campus. For students that wanted to return home, she wrote via email: “We will work with you to the best of our ability to preserve your status during your time away, and will not move at this point to withdraw you and terminate your enrollment status.”
The ISSO subsequently stated that they would approve travel endorsements and visa documents for reentry to the United States, indicating their support for students if they wished to go back to their home countries.
With the college’s decision to cancel on-campus learning for the rest of the semester, the pressure has eased somewhat for international students. Although people holding F-1 visas may generally only take one online course per semester, the Department of Homeland Security has chosen to relax its rules in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the initial chaos, Carvalho doesn’t fault Haverford’s administration for its response. “At the beginning, it was very frustrating,” he said. “But at the same time, this is new for them. I do believe they’re trying their absolute best.”
As the situation in the United States grows more dire by the day and countries lock down their borders, international students have increasingly opted to leave Haverford. To help people get home, the college has been providing assistance for plane ticket costs to students on financial aid.
For those that choose to stay, the campus has grown quiet. “As more and more people go home, it gets more isolating, so it’s a bit tough,” said Carvalho.
According to Dean Denney, about 125 students remained on campus as of April 8. “It is actually hard to give a firm count of the distinction [between domestic and international students], since some are not visa-holders, but still live outside the US,” she wrote in an email. “Still it would be fair to say just over half are international in some sense.”
In these unusual circumstances, some have found a silver lining. While students in the Haverford College Apartments have often complained about the quantity of toilet paper provided by Facilities, COVID-19 has made Carvalho change his tune. Now, he says, “I’m happy about the toilet paper situation.”