In the midst of what should have been a time filled with nothing but festivities and cheer, Lunar New Year 2020 has instead been fraught by a crisis that has significantly diminished the holiday spirit–and, as recent notices from the NYU Shanghai Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman would reveal, has also thrown a wrench in the spring semester calendar.
It bears no introduction: 2019-nCoV, the new strain of coronavirus first introduced in Wuhan of the Hubei Province. The epidemic has become particularly pertinent to the wellbeing of the NYU Shanghai community, in light of the closing of all national universities until February 17th and of the fact that travel within and from China may aid in inadvertent spread of the highly-contagious disease. When the disease first made headlines, Lehman announced to the students that school would be pushed back one week to further assess the magnitude of the situation and to presumably also ensure maximum safety of the student body. Such a change in scheduling would consequently portend the loss of the widely-anticipated spring break, doubtlessly ruffling many a vacation itinerary. Shortly after, the Chinese government decided to close all public educational spaces until February 17th, thereby pushing back the start of spring semester another week. With spring break already sacrificed to the crypts of lost time, the ensuing quandary stood thus: how will another week of lost classes be recuperated? Faculty discussed the plausibility of online classes. Others foresaw the culling of weekends. And still others were already mourning a chunk of their summer vacations.
All this speculation, which took place earlier this week, prompted varied student reactions. Some, like Lauren Bickle ‘23 called for the school to “cancel the semester. Send us to other sites,” while others, like Scofield Zou ‘23, anxiously took to the internet “to follow in time with what is happening in my country and across the world,” and still there were those, like Aibike Begali ‘23, who ultimately laid their trust on the “school’s decisions on what actions they are about to take.” After all, the situation was, and still is, precarious and rapidly developing, prompting concerns in the face of what Zou put as, “social media…filled with official reports of the number of people infected or dead.”
At the initial announcement of a mandated semester delay, dismayed reactions arose as the pushback of the calendar would directly impede pre-ordained holiday and weekend breaks, red-letter dates that may as well be sacrosanct to the habitually overworked. Many a spring break itinerary was dashed, with consequences ranging from the severity of highly anticipated Japanese excursions being canceled and “not [being] able to see sakura in spring…instead grind[ing] for midterms in the library” (Zou), to not being able to return to China at all despite “planning on going to Xinjiang” (Bickle), to nixing all traveling plans that were up “in the air when the school cancelled spring break” (Lexie Zhu ‘23). Thankfully, many were able to cut their losses painlessly, as Iris Shen ‘23 said, “luckily I haven’t booked the tickets or hotels so it doesn’t matter a lot.” Furthermore, as Begali pointed out, our “priorities are still for studies.”
What’s more, half of NYU Shanghai’s student body are foreign nationals, many of whom have returned to their home countries for winter break. At the tail-end of January, their conundrum laid in the decision (or, rather, indecision) of whether or not to return for the spring semester. Bickle, currently in the United States, expressed, “My family really doesn’t want me back…Plus there’s the fear that China halts outgoing flights or the US issues a travel ban.” Regarding how the school ought to address this issue, she said, “the student body is half international, at least tell the international students to go to other campuses because a border closure would most greatly affect us.” Sure enough, NYU Shanghai announced emergency placements shortly thereafter, wherein students abroad could fill in an impromptu Google form to apply to the campuses in the NYU Global Network and enroll in courses via Albert. There are still some hiccups in the scramble to arrange last-minute accomodations for displaced NYU Shanghai students, including the difficulty of signing up for terms that may have already started or housing and courses have been filled.
But as the situation continues to evolve, it becomes increasingly evident that the coronavirus crisis will not even begin to abate on the 17th. When the inevitable human-to-human contact that comes with holding physical classes likewise becomes increasingly concerning, Shen indicated the school “holding online classes” was a viable solution. And indeed, the school released notice earlier that a list of classes that could be adapted to the online format was being compiled. Now, according to a recent email from Lehman, it even seems that “Our professors have shown extraordinary creativity and commitment as they redesign their classes, using an extensive package of synchronous and asynchronous digital tools, so that each student will be a fully engaged member of the class and in close touch with the professor, the instructional staff, and their classmates, even if they are not sitting with them in a physical classroom. And it is clear that they will continue to add new innovations between now and February 17.”
Even so, online classes cannot fix everything. Feeling it an unfair exchange, Bickle said, “I am not paying NYU tuition for online classes.” Also still lingering is the fear of missing out, as the spring semester is starting late regardless. Zou said, “Even if the semester ends as scheduled, Chinese students already miss lots of summer school or volunteer programs offered worldwide as they usually start in late May and early June.” And perhaps the repercussions would be long-term, as Begali “only hope[s] we are able to graduate same date as planned.”
In the end, this is a problem that concerns a much larger scope than that of the school itself. As the World Health Organization decrees it, this is a global issue, and the ones who are taking it the hardest are the millions who are under quarantine, their loved ones, and those at immediate risk. Chinese students like Zhu are taking it upon themselves to be informed and calmly vigilant in the face of a national adversary: “I stay alert and pay due attention to the outbreak like taking precautions and sharing concern in latest news and donation.” Reason is called for under these trying circumstances, and NYU Shanghai must demonstrate the attitude and capacity to react appropriately and effectively. After all, Shen said, “There is no need to be panicked. I agree [with] the school’s decision. It can largely prevent us from gathering in a crowd or travelling by public transport in Shanghai. This decision can help relieve staff’s workload on disinfecting AB and dorms and…is helpful to control the spreading.”
This article was written by Michelle Li. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Alan Lecheng Chao