By Lia Opperman
Over the past five months, COVID-19 has disrupted millions of American lives. But college students were hit especially hard: They were forced to rush out of their dorms and adapt to a new, virtual experience. Low-income students, even those at Harvard University, scrambled to find affordable flights, housing, and storage with little notice.
On March 10, Ryan Morillo, a Harvard freshman and Princeton Summer
Journalism Program alum, was about to walk to class when he received the email
that brought his short-lived time on campus to a halt. Harvard was canceling in-
person classes. “Everything was kind of rushed,” he said. “We were kicked out
on a Tuesday, and they said that by Sunday, everybody had to leave.”
Harvard’s spring break was scheduled a week after in-person classes were canceled, so Morillo already had a flight booked home to Miami. He still felt that the university’s last-minute message was irresponsible. “It was very abrupt the way they did it. And it was just kind of scary.”
Daniel Lobo, president of the group First Generation Harvard Alumni, said that the pandemic has put campus inequalities in sharp relief. “This whole experience is just a
reminder that low-income students don’t have as many resources and the form of disposable income to get through this sort of crisis,” he said.
In response to the Harvard campus emptying out, the group launched a relief grant program for low-income, first-generation undergraduates. Lobo realized that many
students didn’t have a safe home to go to and needed alternate accommodations. He also knew that some needed to store their belongings, but couldn’t afford to pay for storage.
“We had alumni volunteering to open up their homes to students to let them stay with them until they could figure out more permanent accommodations,” he said.
Eventually, the university began providing students with storage, boxes, and alternate lodging, arranging for some to remain on campus if they had no other option.
“The school was generous enough to cover the cost of storage,” Morillo said. “They took care of a lot of expenses and then eventually gave the students a partial refund on room and board [and] tuition.”
For the fall, Morillo has decided to accept a $5,000 stipend that Harvard is offering to students who choose not to move back to campus in the fall.
“To me, as a very low-income student, it’s a lot of money,” he said. “It kind of incentivizes me to stay home, even though that’s really damaging to education.”