CUNY Students Cope with COVID Fallout

Teresa Mettela Jun 17, 2020

As May came to a close, final exams were the least of Abrar Rahman’s worries. Rahman, a rising junior at Baruch College, tested positive for COVID-19 in April and has since made a full recovery. However, the same cannot be said for other members of Rahman’s family. When we spoke last month, Rahman’s uncle was stationed at a hospital in Long Island, awaiting possible bipedal surgery after contracting COVID-19 weeks earlier. 

‘CUNY does not make their resources very accessible. You have to look for them. It’s like a scavenger hunt.’

Coping with these tough circumstances, Rahman wants the City University of New York to be more proactive in addressing the pandemic. 

“CUNY needs to be in contact with its students,” he says. “People need to know how real the virus can get.”  

The CUNY website features coronavirus updates that promise loaner laptops to those in need, a credit/no credit grading policy and a 25 percent waiver for the Spring 2020 “Student Activity Fee,” normally $63 for full-time students. 

Despite these institutional changes, the individual voices of CUNY students seem to be falling on deaf ears. Nisarga Kadam, also a rising junior at Baruch College, is looking to transfer out of the CUNY system. She has been met with radio silence from Baruch’s Office of Registrar regarding the necessary paperwork to be sent to colleges on her behalf. 

As a transfer student, Kadam is required to complete two important documents: a College Report and Midterm Transfer Report, both of which must be signed off by her current Baruch professors to confirm that she is in good academic standing. Despite the urgency of the situation, Kadam has had no cooperation from the Baruch administration. Having spent many hours on hold with various departmental heads, Kadam has expressed her frustration with the university system.

“CUNY does not make their resources very accessible,” she says. “You have to look for them. It’s like a scavenger hunt.” 

Kadam is not the only student feeling neglected by the institution. 

Sahiti Kovvuri, a Baruch sophomore and Jeannette K. Watson fellow, was anticipating an upcoming summer internship as well as a promising study abroad experience. However, due to the impact of COVID on New York City, it is unlikely that Kovvuri will receive the hands-on learning opportunity that her scholarship promised. Instead, the program is attempting to create a digital learning atmosphere. 

“Right now, we don’t really know what next year is going to look like,” says Kovvuri who, like many CUNY students, is debating the merit of digital internships.“It [is] definitely something to consider since Watson is a fellowship that harps on being an opportunity for travel.” 

CUNY has shown some adaptability during the crisis. 

Sazied Khair, a Baruch College junior, was recently sent to Newburgh, New York as a specialist for warehouse operations on a COVID aid relief mission with the National Guard. He has been working with the U.S. Army to supply and send out personal protective equipment to New York State. Once Khair’s squad leader informed him of the mission, Khair relayed this information to his professors at Baruch. Although Khair rarely has time off to attend lectures or participate in class, he is grateful that CUNY staff have made his transition to Newburgh quick and painless. 

“I think all of this boils down to the individuals themselves, right? If you’re really adamant about learning the material, you’re not going to settle for a two-hour class on a Monday or Wednesday. Hold yourself to a higher standard.”

Other students have had a rockier time adjusting.

Chris Medina is studying theater at City College and was taking a musical theater class during Spring 2020. Once CUNY shifted to an online learning platform, Medina found it increasingly difficult to follow along with online instruction. 

Within weeks of remote learning, his musical theater professor eliminated online lectures altogether. Despite this, Medina has taken his education into his own hands by meeting with his professor privately to practice vocals via Zoom, a platform that several CUNY students still do not have access to at home. 

When asked about the resources CUNY has provided him with, Medina jokingly says, “They didn’t give me any Netflix passwords, Hulu passwords — not even Amazon Prime!” 

As the pandemic initially forced an online learning initiative, the CUNY administration reached out to its student body in an effort to provide loaner laptops to those in need. But the messages were targeted at the entire student body, rather than high-need students. Now, CUNY website has linked to a number of resources (respective to each CUNY campus) that provide information regarding technical needs. 

On May 28, at the end of the semester, Colin Chellman, the University Dean for Institutional and Policy Research at CUNY, sent out a short survey that he said would help to “better understand students’ technology needs — hardware, software and internet access.”

Nicole Serrato, a City University senior studying video production and journalism, points out the flaws within CUNY’s outreach efforts. 

“There hasn’t been a uniform voice within the Film Department,” says Serrato. “There should have been a quicker reaction. As a film major, there are certain courses where, if you don’t have a computer, you will fail the class. There’s lots of things you can access on your phone like Zoom, Blackboard and Google Docs. However, students in certain tech-heavy majors that require a laptop for class material should have been contacted first.”

Still, Serrato doesn’t fault CUNY entirely and is sticking with her studies.

“This is out of the school’s control. To point blame and get upset at the school, demand a refund, or say, ‘what am I paying for’ is immature. You’re still paying for mentorship and education.”

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