By Sam Anderson
A few weeks ago in an article published to The Chronicle of Higher Education on April 16, 2020 entitled, “How College Leaders Are Planning for the Fall,” Kent Devereaux, President of Goucher College, was quoted speaking about Goucher’s planned response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The article quoted President Devereaux as saying, “‘A good mentor of mine always instilled in me: Don’t make any decision until you have to,’ the longer you wait, the better your information will be. But when you make your decision ‘be decisive and be clear, and make sure you’ve got your plans.’” In the last two months, President Devereaux’s strategy of waiting for more and more information to make a decision meant leaving students, studying abroad to fulfill graduation requirements, in the dark for too long.
Reading this quote was disappointing given my experience as a student who was abroad and was eventually asked to return home because of the crisis. Goucher College emphasizes a commitment to global education and was among the first colleges to require all students to study abroad. So, as a second semester junior, I traveled to Israel in February for a semester at the International School at the University of Haifa. Everything was off to a smooth start until the COVID-19 outbreak moved into everyone’s focus. I lived in a dorm of six men, including myself, with four of them coming from different institutions of higher education in California and one being a native Israeli. As the crisis evolved, we discussed and compared the response of our home institutions with the Israeli institution we were calling home. What was clear through these conversations and many others I had with peers in Israel from institutions throughout the United States was that Goucher’s communication was delayed and less detailed than any other school’s response. This issue of communication that I experienced is what made reading President Devereaux’s approach on waiting to make decisions so frustrating.
Being abroad as an undergraduate during this crisis and eventually coming home meant a lot of fear and uncertainty for me. While I awaited decisions from Goucher’s administration, other institutions were bringing their students home, or at least letting them know they were thinking about it. The experience of my fellow Goucher students studying abroad was similar. I heard from students in South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa that their peers studying with them from other United States institutions of higher education consistently received more detailed communication more quickly than we heard from Goucher, if we heard anything at all. A friend studying in Berlin, Germany was the last person in her program to hear an update after President Trump’s European travel restrictions were announced in mid-March. I would suggest that in a complicated, unprecedented crisis like the one we are facing now, a slow reticent approach leaves students in a dangerous position and neglects the institution’s commitment to in loco parentis. Sometimes a responsible party has to act without all the information that would enable them to know right from wrong because waiting to act could make things worse and potentially dangerous.
If you studied abroad in Spring 2020 and you’d like to share your experience of COVID-19 please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.