Jeanmarie Evelly

Queens College is one of five CUNY campuses where students were abruptly moved out of dorms amid the COVID-19 crisis.

This story was produced as part of the City Limits Accountability Reporting Initiative for Youth (CLARIFY) program.

Across the city, businesses, institutions and individuals have had to make sacrifices to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Laid off from their jobs and removed from their dormitories, students at the City University of New York feel like they’ve done more than their fair share, and they’re calling for state and CUNY leadership to rectify it.

After in-person classes at CUNY were canceled three weeks ago — a decision many students felt came too late — those working minimum wage on-campus jobs lost work they depended on for financial security. At the time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said college dormitories would remain open, so many student-residents returned to their family homes without bringing their things with them, thinking they’d get the opportunity later in the semester to move out formally. Others opted to stay, in some cases because they had no place else to go.

Since then, student-residents at five CUNY campuses have been told to move out as soon as possible. It happened first at the College of Staten Island’s Dolphin Cove dormitory, where students were told the decision was made for the sake of their own health, as well as to serve whatever plans the state may have for the site. In an email sent March 23, a CSI administrator told students that the governor had asked schools across New York “to be ready for the possibility that dormitories might need to be converted into temporary medical emergency centers.” In the days following that email, residents at dorms at Hunter, City, Queens and Baruch colleges received similar ones. CUNY did not immediately respond to a query about how many students have been impacted by the evictions. 

The state government has not yet announced how the newly available dorms will be used, if at all. In press briefings, however, Cuomo has emphasized the city’s need for more hospital beds to hold the increasing number of coronavirus patients, and an email sent from Hunter College’s Residence Life says its Brookdale dorm will be “repurposed as a medical facility.”

At a meeting on Monday of the CUNY Board of Trustees, Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodríguez said that Cuomo had “tapped three of our campus’s residence halls — the College of Staten Island, City College and Hunter — as potential sites for emergency medical facilities and any other needed use, such as housing for National Guard members.”

While Cuomo said last week that the state was eyeing Queens College dorms for potential medical use, officials later stated that would not be the case. Instead, the Summit Apartments at Queens College will be used to house about 300 international and housing-insecure CUNY students who had to move out of the dorms at their home campuses. According to CUNY, each student will have their own room and bathroom, and “social distancing protocols will be strictly observed.” Students being transported to this dorm were told in an email to “only bring things that you can pack into one or two bags.”

Students at the impacted CUNY campuses said social distancing protocols were practically disregarded during the move-out process, where the short notice students were given resulted in crowded conditions at the dorms. 

At Hunter’s Brookdale dormitory on East 25th Street, where residents were given three days to move out, several students reported that cars were double-parked and even triple-parked last week as students and their families scrambled to pack their things.

“There were the people that were still living there, there were all he public safety workers, there were the families of the people moving out,” said Hunter College junior and former Brookdale resident Adam Tulibacki. “I ran into a lot of people.”

An out-of-state student, Tulibacki moved back to Delaware after classes were canceled, but left his things at Brookdale, expecting it to remain open. When he learned that he would have to move out, he quickly drove back to New York, despite the city’s skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases. 

“I think a lot of the administration has failed their students in a very unfair and disgusting way,” said Tulibacki, who has been self-quarantining in Delaware since returning from New York. “Moving forward, there’s going to be a reparation for this.”

In an email response to City Limits, CUNY reiterated the governor’s estimate that college dorms can provide the downstate area with more than 29,000 much-needed hospital beds.

“CUNY is doing all it can in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including making dormitories available for use as medical facilities, as requested by the state,” CUNY’s Director of Media Relations Frank Sobrino said.

On Monday, the Board of Trustees approved a partial dorm refund, a partial refund on student activity fees and an optional credit/no credit grading policy. The university previously announced a technology loan program and extended emergency funding to students in dire financial straits because of coronavirus.

But some students believe CUNY has still not done enough. The University Student Senate, the university’s student governance body representing those at 25 CUNY schools, issued a list of demands that includes a full tuition reimbursement for the spring 2020 semester. 

“Classes are still going on, but they aren’t the same in-person lectures and labs that students paid for,” explained USS Chair Timothy Hunter. He connects the issue of this semester’s tuition reimbursement to an ongoing struggle at CUNY, where, for the past several years, tuition has increased steadily. “It’s time for the state to chip in and give CUNY what they owe.”

After all CUNY students lost because of coronavirus, Hunter said, it’s “the least [the state] can do.”

Lauren Hakimi is a student at Macaulay Honors at Hunter College, where she studies English and history, runs cross country and track, and edits her school news publication, The Envoy. She aspires to a career in journalism.