Administration’s coronavirus communication efforts stir mixed reactions

In the wake of the evolving novel coronavirus pandemic, the University of Miami has taken drastic measures to mitigate its potential spread while ensuring the well-being of the UM community.

Initially, administrators advised the community members to avoid contact with others as much as possible, to avoid travel while sick and to wash their hands immediately after coughing or sneezing. UM officials also emphasized that students who have recently traveled or who experience symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath are encouraged to call the Student Health Service.

Then, UM Communications announced that in accordance with public health guidance, spring break would be extended a week and classes would go online until April 4. Later that week, UM announced that in order to reduce density on campus, on-campus housing will partially close and all classes will be conducted online for the remainder of the semester. This announcement came after many other schools had made similar decisions.

Students have expressed mixed reactions regarding the effectiveness of UM’s communication efforts regarding COVID-19— from extending spring break to moving to online classes and to shutting down access to the residencies almost entirely.

While many students praised UM for supporting students through this difficult situation, some said they wished the administration was more proactive and clear in their communications.

Samantha Waddell, a senior majoring in marine science and biology, said she was especially confused by several of emails regarding housing procedures. She had been on a cruise ship over spring break and planned to quarantine herself in her University Village apartment.

“However, receiving the email that housing was closing only four days into our quarantine meant that our quarantine was in effect, useless,” she said.”We would have to come into contact with others in order to move out and travel home.”

Waddell essentially had 18 hours to pack up her entire apartment, say goodbye to senior year and drive home. She said that she feels if she had waited any longer for more clarification from housing, she would have been stranded in Miami and not gotten home prior to her home state of Ohio going into lockdown. She also said she doesn’t know how she would have been able to transport all her belongings so quickly if she didn’t have the convenience of a car.

“I think that UM should have been much more intentional in its original decisions and given students more time to move out of on-campus housing,” she said. “It seemed like they waited until it was too late to safely fly, leaving lots of out-of-state students stranded.”

Jacob Skedzuhn, a sophomore majoring in marketing, said that although UM’s communication efforts were confusing and somewhat rushed, he still feels UM is taking effective measures to maintain calm throughout these unusual circumstances.

“The housing emails were kind of confusing, but I asked one of the housing people in person and they sorted any confusion I had,” said Skedzuhn. “I flew home because of UM’s decision to close the dorms. It felt very stressful and rushed packing everything up in my dorm though.”

Skedzuhn continued, “I do think UM has done a good job keeping us informed about coronavirus. They sent lots of emails and made video messages as well.”

The process for retrieving personal belongings will be communicated in the coming weeks. Students who completed the virtual check-out process by the March 25 deadline will have charges prorated as of that date. Students who did not complete the check-out process by March 25 or did not make alternate arrangements with Housing and Residential Life may have a later proration date.

Joshua Rotman, a freshman studying biology, said although he is sad that he won’t be able to see his friends any time soon, he understands why the university chose to close the dorms and move to online learning.

“I praise the university for making the most responsible choice of moving to online classes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “It is in our best interest to limit our interactions to protect our parents, grandparents, and anyone with pre-existing medical conditions.”

Caroline Baum, a freshman majoring in marine science and biology, said she loves school and loves to learn. However, Baum said UM’s announcement regarding the transition to online courses was abrupt; she felt unprepared.

“Personally, I love school so I’m kind of upset because I don’t want to leave campus,” said Baum. “I feel like this is making freshman year really crazy and hectic, but that’s just how life goes. It’s sort of like a teaching moment on how to deal with surprises and unplanned situations. The transition to online courses felt rushed and thrown together, but I know it’s for our own good.”

Freshman Keyur Dhungana, who is majoring in biomedical engineering, said she feels UM is taking effective precautionary measures while considering all factors of their decisions.

“I think they made the right decision by giving us an extra week of spring break because it helped us adjust,” said Dhungana. “I also think the school made the whole process easy for the kids to be able to transition into online classes. They also provided guidelines on how to make sure our internet was strong and offered support.”

Waddell agreed, echoing the sentiment that although online classes aren’t ideal, UM employees have done a good job in easing the transition.

“I understand the move to online class and why it is necessary,” Waddell said. “I am extremely appreciative of my professors during this time. They have had to completely change their teaching styles with little instruction, and have been very supportive of students.”

Paulina Corcoran, a sophomore majoring in communications, said although UM’s decision to move to online classes and close housing took longer than other colleges, she feels that the administration is still communicating efficiently.

“I appreciate how UM has created effective protocols for the community in order for everyone to stay safe and informed,” said Corcoran. “The school is being very transparent and providing additional information pertaining to students off campus and students who are still planning on remaining within the residential areas.”

“I believe that UM is keeping students informed, as nearly everyday we receive an email, text, or social media alert from the school containing more information and the university’s rationale behind it,” Waddell said. “However, I wish that more information had been provided before spring break. I travelled internationally on a cruise for spring break, and before we left it seemed that all was well.”

UM administration did not respond to The Hurricane’s request for comment regarding students’ concerns over confusing communication and slow calls to action.

In a message addressed to faculty, Provost Jeffrey Duerk wrote “Even in the face of this evolving threat, I have been heartened as the university community has come together and worked to ensure that our core functions— teaching and learning, research and innovation and patient care—thrive at the U.”

Shortly thereafter, President Julio Frenk released a video message regarding the global pandemic.

“I directed the University of Miami community to focus on preparation, precaution and prudence—not panic,” said Frenk. “Our university has a leadership team well-versed in emergency response, these elements provide our community with extensive know-how as we face together the uncertainty entailed by this pandemic.”