Aloysius Nothem, a SUNY Fredonia sophomore in Adolescence Education, frantically packed his bags after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) schools would close.
Nothem was told he had to leave school as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, but initially heard nothing about being refunded for his housing.
At the time of Cuomo’s press release on March 11, which declared plans for “distance learning” for the remainder of the semester, some SUNY and CUNY schools noted that leaving campus was a “personal choice,” leaving students financially responsible for spring semester housing, meal plans charges and applicable other fees. This news kick-started Nothem’s petition for partial refunds for room and board from SUNY and CUNY, which now has more than 1,200 signatures.
“Originally, [Fredonia students] were told we had to move out by the 19th permanently,” Nothem said over Facebook messenger. “No announcement had been made yet about refunds, but then we received an email saying that it was a personal choice if we left, so they’d keep the money. This led me to look for options for action.”
Since the announcement, students across the state have been moving out of their dorms upon request from their universities. Private colleges like Columbia have been making move-outs a requirement, but have offered prorated refunds for housing and meal plans.
Some state schools are following suit. SUNY Binghamton‘s COVID-19 page announced that students leaving their on-campus housing will be issued adjustments to their semester charges. SUNY Fredonia has also begun arrangements for applying credit to students next semester.
Stony Brook University, which told students to move off-campus on March 17, will offer partial refunds.
The petition has garnered attention from both SUNY student residents and commuters.
Sierra Medwig, a sophomore commuter attending Suffolk County Community College, added her name to the petition on March 15. She said she believes SUNY students are being robbed.
“Tuition alone is expensive on top of room and board,” Medwig said. “It will put students in debt for years, and some never even finish paying.”
Stony Brook’s administration has been unclear about their COVID-19 strategy, which led to a student-led protest on March 11 shortly before Cuomo’s announcement, and an email from the university’s chapter of United University Professions (UUP) demanding “more regular and more complete communication to the Campus Community.”
Schools across the U.S. continue to close or move to remote learning, and Cuomo mandated all New York schools close for two weeks starting Wednesday as case numbers continue to climb. As of March 16, the tri-state area has already confirmed more than 1,000 cases, with New York holding the vast majority.
Although Nothem’s own school has already declared plans for partial refunds, he hopes to keep the petition open since other students still remain in the dark.
“My school has granted somewhat of a refund, but it still leaves many students in question,” he said.
Nothem plans to advertise the petition on social media to strengthen outreach and hopes to get more students involved.
Correction, 3/19/20, 8:23 p.m.: A previous version of this article misspelled Aloysius Nothem’s name as Aloysius Nottem.