sudden move

CUNY Students Pushed Out of Dorms for Medical Space

Students at the College of Staten Island were forced to make way for an emergency medical facility.
Students at the College of Staten Island were forced to make way for an emergency medical facility. Photo: Clifford Michel/THE CITY

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Students at three city public colleges have been given the boot from dorms as CUNY prepares to potentially use its campuses as “medical emergency centers” to help combat coronavirus.

At the College of Staten Island, CUNY public safety officers came around to each housing unit with resident assistants on Monday in the early evening to inform students that they’d have to leave the dorms by Tuesday at 6 p.m., students said.

At 11:37 p.m. Monday, a CSI administrator sent an email saying that students would have until Thursday to get out.

The note said that the college wants to encourage social distancing and “most importantly  — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked private and public universities across New York State to be ready for the possibility that dormitories might need to be converted into temporary medical emergency centers.”

On Friday, the governor had said “a number of CUNY sites, number of SUNY sites” were being eyed. He said new medical locations would be determined by questions such as, “Where do we have the space, where can we get up a temporary facility, how quickly?”

Students in dorms at Hunter College and City College got similar notices. A CUNY spokesperson said all displaced students could move to housing at Queens College.

In a video statement sent to the college community on Monday, CSI President William Fritz said the school was talking to state and federal agencies about using the campus “for health care and for providing daycare for the children of medical first responders.”

Fritz added, “The college has a history of stepping up in times of crisis during events like 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy. As Staten Island’s anchor institution, we will do the same to meet this crisis.”

‘We Paid $8,000’

Students who spoke to THE CITY while trickling out of Dolphin Cove — a two-building housing complex with 607 beds — were stunned and frustrated by the timing of the demand.

“My family is unable to pick me up and I have to travel with my support animal and pack for him on this short notice as well,” said Jasmine Shaikh, a 21-year-old biology major from Bridgeport, Conn. “We paid for a safe living space and that is being taken away from us. We paid $8,000-plus for a safe place to live. Staten Island is the safest borough and we are being forced out of it.”

Students at the College of Staten Island gathered their belongings for a hasty move.
Students at the College of Staten Island gathered their belongings for a hasty move. Photo: Clifford Michel/THE CITY

Her roommate, an international student from Japan, was ended up buying a plane ticket to fly home Tuesday after the announcement, according to Shaikh. Neither knew at the time that staying at Queens College would be an option.

“They came around and said we have until 6 p.m. tomorrow and then they changed it,” said Rigaud Destime, a 20-year-old who’s studying nursing at CSI. “But most of us were already packed.”

‘It Makes Sense’

The process is moving quickly at other parts of the City University as well.

Residents at City College’s dorms got an email Tuesday from President Vincent Boudreau saying “that the state will be taking control of the dorm rooms on Saturday.”

At Hunter, students at the Brookdale Residence Hall on East 25th Street — just blocks from Bellevue and other hospitals on the front lines of the coronavirus response — received word on Tuesday morning that they must vacate no later than Friday.

Hunter had already been encouraging dorm residents to move out if they could, starting when CUNY shifted classes online March 19, said Hunter student and Brookdale resident advisor Harriet Lengel Enright.

But before Tuesday, she said, remaining residents had received assurances Brookdale would remain open.

“I’ve been fielding questions I don’t have the answers to all day,” said Lengel Enright. “My job is just to keep people calm.”

She said she’s not surprised at the turn of events, which will send her to live with her parents in The Bronx.

“Honestly, a lot of people had been theorizing this was going to happen before it did,” Lengel Enright said. “We know where we’re located, and it’s got single rooms, so I think it makes sense.”

‘CUNY Doing All it Can’

Smitha Varghese, the University Student Senate’s legislative director, told THE CITY that the CUNY-wide body is demanding that students who have been forced to move back home be compensated and that every student be housed.

Varghese noted that CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez assured the Senate “that no student would be left homeless.”

Still, Varghese added, “the treatment of the students — and a lot of them are low-income and students of color — is not great. And we understand that most of these mandates are coming from the governor himself, but the communication could be better.”

Frank Sobrino, a CUNY spokesperson, noted that the displaced students are all being offered housing at a residential complex at Queens College.

“CUNY is doing all it can in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including making dormitories available to the state for use as medical facilities,” Sobrino said in a statement.

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