Classes move online in response to COVID-19

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In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, President Jonathan Veitch announced via email March 12 that classes will be conducted online starting March 23 after a week-long extension of spring break. Students living on campus must leave by March 20, with a petition process available for students who have circumstances requiring them to stay in on-campus housing. The campus remains open, meaning students will be able to access certain services such as Emmons Wellness Center, the Marketplace, the Tiger Cooler and the Academic Commons, which will remain open with hours that may change and have yet to be announced.

There have been no identified cases of COVID-19 at Occidental. The first case in neighboring Pasadena was reported March 11. As of Thursday, over 200 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in California and four people have died.

The college follows the lead of many schools nationally and locally who have switched to online classes, including University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the Claremont Colleges, Caltech and Pepperdine University. The announcement comes a day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom banned gatherings of more than 250 people.

A petition process is open to students requesting to stay in their on-campus housing for reasons such as financial hardship or academic and technology needs. A coordinating task force made up of 10 college employees from different departments has been working on the college’s response to COVID-19. According to Vice President of Communications & Institutional Initiatives and lead of the coordinating task force Marty Sharkey, college administration is finalizing details about whether students who remain on campus will stay in their current rooms or move to a specific hall.

“There’s been no discussion of a cap,” Sharkey said. “I can also say that everyone from President Veitch to Dean Flot knows that there are many students international students included, but not just international students that have a specific situation, and there’s a process being set up to handle that.”

Sharkey said the most common questions the college has received since the announcement are about logistics of moving out. According to an email sent by Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) President Nina Srdić Hadži-Nešić, students with circumstances making it challenging for them to leave campus will be permitted to stay.

“All those who need to stay on campus and can’t go back home for this or other reasons will be allowed to do so, but please write an application linked in the official email,” Srdić Hadži-Nešić said in the email.

As ASOC president, Srdić Hadži-Nešić has brought student concerns to the attention of the coordinating task force. She said students have raised questions to her about work study, financial aid, reimbursement of plane tickets and meal plan and whether students’ on-campus jobs will continue online if possible.

“It seems that the priority right now is clarifying the go-back process [and] figuring out commencement and what this means for seniors,” Srdić Hadži-Nešić said. “Underlying all that are all the financial implications and costs in terms of housing, travel, work study, meal plans.”

Because the college is remaining open, students who leave campus housing can make arrangements to retrieve their belongings after March 20, according to Veitch’s email. International students face specific housing considerations.

“If someone either can’t get back to their home country, or is concerned that if they go back, they won’t be able to get back to Oxy, that would pose an obvious problem for that student that we want to try and address,” Sharkey said.

All eight Occidental students studying abroad in Italy through IES Abroad returned home as of March 12. According to International Programs Director (IPO) Robin Craggs, they will complete their remaining coursework online. IES Abroad programs in Madrid, Spain, as well as CIEE Abroad programs in Prague, Czech Republic, have also switched to online courses, according to Craggs. IES is in the process of switching all IES Abroad Center standard program courses to online as of March 12.

The announcement email listed Google Apps for Education and Occidental’s video conferencing solution as options for carrying out online learning. According to Srdić Hadži-Nešić, faculty are committed to ensuring students who have made progress in getting credits will graduate on time.

Occidental canceled varsity Division III sports seasons for the remainder of the semester. The NCAA announced March 12 that all championships will be canceled. In LA, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools remain open, and schools are preparing for the possibility of transitioning to online classes. 

Much of Occidental’s future remains dependent on developments and decisions made in the coming days and weeks. Sharkey recommended that students stay updated through the college’s COVID-19 specific web page, where the task force will post details as the situation develops. 

“Everyone on the administrative side understands the disruption. The execution isn’t going to be perfect because it’s so rapidly evolving,” Sharkey said. “There’s a lot of people spending a lot of hours and thinking about the wellbeing of students, staff and faculty and how we work this out together. It’s going to be a daily process, a weekly process.”

Kristine White contributed reporting.