Grassroots effort helps Duke students forced leave dorms over coronavirus concerns

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — On Monday hundreds of Duke students moved off campus after university officials announced last week they were suspending all residential activities as the novel coronavirus threat strengthens in North Carolina.

Classes at Duke will continue online on Monday, March 23.

Some student have been given exemptions and are allowed to stay on campus for special circumstances, but most students must either go back home or find another place to stay off-campus.

Duke sophomore Troy Zha said he thought about applying for an extension, but said the process took too long and he thought it was best to move out as soon as possible.

“The situation was just handled very poorly,” Zha said.

Zha said he couldn’t move back home to Pennsylvania and that he needed to stay in Durham because of his job.

“We had one week to find a place to live and we got really lucky,” Zha said. “We’re going to move to an apartment off-campus.”

Zha told CBS 17 that the move in the middle of the semester has created financial and mental hardships for him and other students.

“We don’t really have that same energy to spend on classes now that we have to worry about where we are going to live,” Zha said.

However, the community is stepping in to help students like Zha.

A grassroots effort on Facebook called “Duke Mutual Aid” has been created to help out Duke students with food, housing, and transportation services.

Students can go there and ask for assistance.

As part of the effort, Duke sophomore Emma Cairns started a food drive for students who no longer have access to on-campus meals.

“We realize Duke isn’t trying to be harmful and Duke isn’t trying to hurt us right now,” Cairns said. “Duke is just going through something that all of the schools are going through for the first time. For us, we have to make sure that where Duke is slacking, we are picking up the slack.”

Zha said he is glad the university is taking steps to protect the students, but he said it’s creating quite the hardship for him and other students.

“I think it’s reasonable that we would close campus,” Zha said. “But I think they should have kept the dorms open for people who had nowhere else to go.”

University officials said that students who paid for on-campus housing and a meal plan will get reimbursed for any unused housing and food credits.

As for students who left campus for spring break, the university’s decision to suspend residential services has left them in limbo as well.

These students have been told they cannot return to campus to get their essential belongings such as laptops, school books, and other necessities before online classes start next week.

Instead, university officials said those belongings would be shipped to those students’ homes.

“The Residence Life Office has been asking for volunteers that are Duke staff to help go in the students’ rooms and pack their things,” said Sam Laurent, campus minister at the Episcopal Center at Duke University.

Laurent said several employees have volunteered to go through the students’ dorms and the plan is to Facetime or Skype the students while they are packing up their things.

“If whoever is going into the room to get the things from them, if they have a phone, they can literally be showing on video what they are packing,” Laurent said.

University officials said the process is currently underway.

Students will be able to come back to campus and get the rest of their belongings later on.

Over at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the dorms remain open to the students.

However, UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz is urging students not to come back to campus unless if they have a hardship or if they depend on campus health care as their only source of primary care.

All campus tours at both Duke and UNC have been canceled for now.

For more information on the Duke Mutual Aid effort go the Facebook group’s website.

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