One Cape Breton University academic has enlisted colleagues to get help fast to some of the most vulnerable members of the institution’s large international student population affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Geology professor Deanne van Rooyen said one of her classes has 165 students — many of them from another country — and several are new mothers or are expecting.
van Rooyen said when the university had to shut down in-person classes last weekend, many of the vulnerable women worried about their education and children.
She and other faculty and staff quickly put together packages that included baby clothes, diapers and food.
“It was just something nice to do in a stressful time, because I had discussed with a few students, well, what would we do if their exam had to be written early because baby was coming and we said, ‘Well, of course we can accommodate pretty much anything,’ so I knew that there were a lot of students worried about the end of term and whether they would make it to the end of term,” she said.
van Rooyen said some of the students had been looking forward to their mothers coming to Cape Breton for graduation and to stick around and help with the babies.
Others had been planning to get summer jobs at the end of the semester to raise much-needed funds to cover living costs and continue their education.
Travel restrictions and the shutting down of many retail and food establishments have put those plans on hold.
“It’s a big loss,” van Rooyen said.
“They’re pretty sad about that and they’re definitely worried financially, because they want to make sure they can finish their degrees, finish their courses, because none of them have a ton of extra money for extra classes to come back next year if they have to.”
Some students have to stay in residence because they can’t go home and have nowhere else to go.
The university is maintaining essential services, such as housing and a cafeteria, but it’s also not clear how that will continue.
Cape Breton University officials declined comment.
A number of other universities have started to close their residences and have told people, ‘Well, ya gotta go.’– CBU geology professor Deanne van Rooyen
The university’s student union runs a food bank, but it’s not clear whether that will continue, van Rooyen said.
“I think we’ll have to wait and see a couple of weeks and see what we can do about the food bank, see what we can do about the residences,” she said.
“I know the residences at CBU are still open, but we’ve seen across the country a number of other universities have started to close their residences and have told people, ‘Well, ya gotta go.'”
Van Rooyen has also gathered a list of volunteer drivers to help out students who may not be able to get groceries and is encouraging everyone to donate to food banks to help struggling students and anyone else who needs it.
Prikshit Malik, an engineering student from India living off-campus, said he is a little concerned about the coronavirus, but he said the university is taking the proper steps to keep people safe.
He is planning to go home, eventually, but has one more semester of classes starting in May and has no immediate travel plans.
Malik said he has enough money to get by, for now, thanks to a job in Ontario last summer.
“I don’t have to do work for two or three months, because I have enough savings to handle my daily expenditures here,” he said.
Vidhya Murali, who is from India and is studying public health, is not one of the more vulnerable students.
She lives off-campus and said CBU is doing the right things to stop the potential spread of the coronavirus.
“The university is taking all of the precautions that they can,” she said.
“They have cancelled all in-person classes, everything’s being turned online … I don’t think there is need to panic, but yeah, there is need for caution.”
Murali said the pandemic is troubling and it has affected her future plans.
Visit home uncertain
She has been away from home since January 2019 and was hoping to at least visit India this summer.
“After the course, I would definitely like to go back home,” Murali said.
“It’s been more than a year. I kind of had plans to meet up with the family over the summer this year, but yeah, I don’t know that that’s going to be possible. It’s quite uncertain right now.”
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