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Students start packing up as Loyola, U. of C. close dorms, move to ‘remote learning’ because of coronavirus concerns

The schools join the University of Illinois, Illinois State, Northwestern and DePaul in cancelling in-person classes.

A group of women walk with a cart full of belongings, at Loyola University, Thursday, March, 12, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Students at Loyola University Chicago started packing up their belongings Thursday as the school announced it was shifting to remote learning and closing its residence halls — in the middle of the semester — out of concerns over the coronavirus.

For Loyola’s students, “all in-person, face-to-face classes will be suspended,” beginning Friday and lasting through the end of the current semester, administrators said Thursday in a letter to faculty and staff.

Students, including freshman Edwin Alfaro, said they were prepared for the announcement after so many other schools suspended in-person classes this week, including University of Illinois, Northwestern and Columbia College.

But Loyola, the University of Chicago and DePaul went further than others in essentially emptying out residence halls and forcing students to either return home or find other places to live.

Students are expected to leave residence halls at Loyola by the end of the day Thursday, March 19. “Exceptions and hardships” are set be considered on an “individual basis,” administrators said.

“I have nowhere else to stay ... I have to go back home,” said Fedi Tadele, a freshmen from out of state who was actively packing and planning to leave Loyola’s Rogers Park campus this weekend.

Tadele said she is not confident about her classes transitioning to online courses as some of her professors are not great with technology. She is worried about whether she’ll be able to attend summer courses and whether she’ll get reimbursed for them if they are canceled, as well as housing costs.

Asked if students would receive refunds for meal and housing fees, a Loyola spokeswoman said, “The financial details are being worked out and will be communicated to students and their families as soon we can.”

The University of Chicago announced a similar arrangement Thursday, saying classes are set to shift online beginning March 30, officials said.

“Extensive preparations are in process under the provost’s leadership, and we will provide detailed guidance over the next week about remote teaching,” the university said in a news release.

Students carry personal belongings as they moved out of the dorms at Loyola University in March, when the school had to shut down suddenly because of the coronavirus.
Colin, left, and Edwin Alfaro carry totes of personal belongings to a nearby car for a friend, at Loyola University, Thursday, March, 12, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

U. of C.’s spring quarter

On the other side of the city, word started spreading Wednesday night at U. of C. that the campus was expected to close after spring break. Students said resident advisors got the news first and shared it with students, who then began sharing rumors amongst themselves and on Twitter.

The university confirmed the students’ suspicions Thursday morning with a letter stating that all campus residences would be closed for the spring quarter.

Students were still trying to process the information and said they were disappointed: Seniors worried about losing the experience of their last quarter on campus and freshmen were suddenly confronted with the prospect of returning home halfway through their first year away.

Samson Streachek, a 19-year-old freshman from outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota, said he was disappointed, like many of his peers.

“Everyone was so sad when they heard the news,” Streachek said. “Some people were crying. This is the quarter everyone was looking forward to, with the weather being better, more things to do outside.”

Streachek said he thinks he’ll be able to do most of his classwork online without issue, but was concerned about returning to his parents’ home — where he will live with his seven siblings — will present its own issues trying to find a place to study and work.

On-campus housing at the U. of C. is expected to remain open through the end of the winter quarter, with students expected to vacate residence halls by 5 p.m. March 22, administrators said, and not return for spring quarter.

International students said they were in an even more difficult position: If they return home it could be to a country in an opposite time zone, which could lead to problems with when online classes will be held and when to turn in coursework. Those students were also concerned about being able to return to their home countries and returning to the United States if the virus continues to spread.

The university said it will continue to provide “housing, dining, health and other resources to students for whom travel restrictions or other circumstances require them to remain on campus for spring quarter.”

“We will be acting collectively to prevent and slow the spread of the virus,” U. of C. President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee said. “We are committed to maintaining University research and daily operations, and ensuring that all students can realize their academic objectives, but we understand that doing so will present new challenges. We extend our appreciation in advance to our faculty, students, staff, and the University community for their collective efforts to fulfill the distinctive mission of the University in today’s deeply challenging environment.”

Elijah Ash, 23, said students still had many questions about how exactly remote learning will work.

Ash, a graduate student studying anthropology, said replicating seminar classes, where students are expected to participate in group discussions, will be more difficult to hold online.

“People are worried it will also affect the material,” Ash said, pointing to at least one of his teachers who said they would be cutting back on what was taught in class to accommodate the material being presented digitally.

But Ash said it wasn’t all about course work; he participates in a chamber music society on campus and is concerned that those extracurricular activities that make up a large part of the university experience will be lost as the university cancels events and concerts to avoid having large groups of students be in close contact.

Students, though, were largely understanding of how unprecedented the situation was.

“From a public health perspective, I understand it’s what has to be done,” Aaron Smoot, a 24-year-old working on a master’s degree in public policy, said.

Smoot has a mother in her 60s and a grandmother in her 80s back home in Baltimore, Maryland, and said it was necessary for institutions to take proper steps to slow the spread of the virus to keep people like them healthy.

“You hope for them they can get [coronavirus] under control,” he said.

Loyola fresham Annie LeDuc said she felt university officials “made the right call,” though as a dance major, she’s not sure how her courses will translate online.

“I have no hard feelings, and respect the decision,” LeDuc said

The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools is also moving to remote learning March 30.