I’m writing today to offer updates on a few subjects, and also to check in on you. As April begins, it’s still somewhat difficult to fully grasp all that has occurred over the past few weeks. I imagine you are feeling a range of emotions. I hope as you deal with this upheaval in your life you will take some time for self-care and reflection. If you are spending major portions of your day in front of a computer instead of in a classroom or research lab or library with the friends, advisors, colleagues, and the routines you had come to enjoy, social isolation can be a real problem. Feelings of distance, loneliness, and even depression can result. Many of us feel a bit of “cabin fever” and that’s quite natural. Things as simple as taking a long walk and enjoying nature can help in dealing with the uncertainty everyone is feeling now.
I urge you to stay connected with your friends and whoever else lifts your spirits. Prioritize your health, including getting adequate sleep, moving your muscles, and eating nutritiously. If you would like to speak with a counselor at any point, we continue to offer services through CAPS and Student Health remotely. Please see the end of this message for resources and contact information.
If you are having difficulty with your courses, either because of the material, online delivery, or other issue, please reach out for help. If you are an undergraduate student, please call on your professor, teaching assistant, academic advisor, association dean (if in the College), or perhaps engage with a tutor or peer. Graduate and professional students should reach out to their professor, advisor, research director, department chair, or academic dean.
Governor Northam’s Executive Order. The warm spring weather can be a soothing antidote to stress, but it carries a risk as well. It remains very important to practice social distancing and abide by local directives. While it will be tempting to gather outside in groups, it is essential that you follow orders like those issued by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to maintain social distancing and only go out for essential needs. The Governor’s most recent Executive Order directs Virginians to stay at home through June 10. This does not preclude going out for a walk, for example, but if you go with a few friends, you should be mindful of keeping a distance of at least six feet between you. No groups of 10 or more can gather outside or elsewhere in Virginia, on public or private property. Many other states have similar restrictions aimed at “flattening the curve” and avoiding larger scale COVID-19 infections that may overwhelm our health care system.
Doing Our Part. We know the COVID-19 crisis is worsening in most of the country, including in Virginia. University leaders are responding by turning significant attention to our health system and standing ready to support the consolidated, joint efforts of emergency teams in the Charlottesville community and larger central Virginia area. As a state institution with a public trust and mission, it is our duty to respond to requests for use of our facilities and resources at the local, regional, state, and national levels.
Emergency Use of Residence Halls. Within the past few days, we have responded to requests from emergency planners to make residence hall space available near the UVA Hospital. The 15 undergraduate students who still resided in Bond, Bice, Shea, and the French and Spanish language houses have been relocated this weekend, with help from the teams in Housing & Residence Life and Facilities Management, to vacant rooms in Lambeth and Copeley. Additionally, students who had been living in Bond, Bice, Shea, and the French and Spanish language houses – but had left Charlottesville previously – have been notified that the University will be carefully packing and storing their belongings at no cost to students, so the buildings can be used to support needs arising from this crisis. (Students can also choose to have their belongings shipped to them at their expense.)
This crisis bears similarities to war efforts of the past when citizens had to make sacrifices and pull together for the greater good. I regret some decisions have come very quickly with little advance communication, but the situation is exceptionally fluid right now and the University is part of larger efforts with new priorities emerging daily. Whenever possible, we are committed to communicating with you in advance and as fully as possible. We will always endeavor not simply to tell you what action is being taken, but also why.
Retrieving Belongings from the Residence Halls. Given medical guidance and concerns for the health of you, your families, and people in Charlottesville, it will not be possible for students who were living in residence halls to come back to the Grounds at this time to retrieve personal possessions from on-Grounds residences. We will be determining a date and process for you to return in the future, and only when consistent with public health and safety. The residence halls currently are accessible only to those students who received permission to remain on Grounds.
Support for International Students. Of special note is that many of the undergraduate and graduate students remaining on Grounds and in our Charlottesville community are international students. We recognize the special challenges they face being far from home. We communicated last week with all students remaining on Grounds and emphasized how they can access needed services. For our international students in particular, we want to underscore our condemnation of, and resolve to combat, any acts of bias or xenophobia against them. If you have been the target of such an act, please report it through the University’s Just Report It system. Of course, if you believe you are ever in immediate danger, you should always call 911.
Financial Hardships. Without question, the coronavirus crisis is taking an economic toll on many, including our students, faculty and staff, and their families. The University is examining how costs and losses are affecting our operations. This includes the recognition that some families who have been hit especially hard may need to update their financial information with Student Financial Services for purposes of calculating institutional aid and access to other resources.
Many students have expressed considerable concern about losing their wages from part-time jobs, affecting their ability to pay rent and other major expenses. Please note, the Student Legal Services office, which is staffed by attorney Lester Wilson and funded by the Student Activity Fee, may be a resource to assist you. More information is available on the Student Legal Services website.
New federal legislation may also grant part-time student workers eligibility for unemployment benefits through the Virginia Employment Commission. Students who had part-time jobs but are currently unemployed can apply now on the VEC website. Applicants will need to renew their claims weekly, preferably Mondays through Wednesdays. The VEC website states VEC is still awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, so the timing of funding is uncertain. If you are a part-time student worker who lost your job in another state, you should apply using that state's website to seek unemployment benefits.
We are grateful to our graduate students for the support they continue to provide to the University’s core missions of teaching and research. For those students who are serving as Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) and Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs), the University’s policy on continuity of pay is noted on the Human Resources website. During the spring term, GTAs continue in their roles of working with faculty in teaching remotely for the remainder of the semester, while GRAs and research fellows continue to work with their faculty advisors and supervisors to engage in the activities of their research groups, including continuing research remotely to the extent possible. We know how disruptive this pandemic has been to the academic careers of our graduate students. The Provost and the Vice President for Research continue to work with the deans and faculty to find ways to ensure the success of our graduate students during this time of disruption in their education and research.
Emergency funding continues to be available for all students in need. As a reminder, three forms of funding are available:
- Emergency travel support to return home
- Emergency technology support for online learning
- Emergency funding for food, medication, supplies
Final Exercises. Having walked the Lawn myself as a graduating student, I fully recognize the importance of walking the Lawn for our graduating students and their families. Last month, President Ryan asked Pam Higgins, Executive Director for Major Events in the President’s Office, and me to lead a working group of undergraduate and graduate students and representatives from the schools to recommend ways for a meaningful celebration still to occur on the Lawn. We hope to present recommendations soon to President Ryan and his senior leadership team. You should expect to hear directly from President Ryan on this topic in the coming weeks, as he is committed to seeing this through for you.
Providing Support. Many of you have expressed interest in supporting the University Health System and our local community, and we have seen many gestures of generosity. If you would like to learn more about how you can support the care needs of the Health System, please visit their website.
With six weeks remaining in the semester, I hope to communicate several more times before everyone finishes the term. I personally want to stay connected with you, and I feel it is important for you to receive regular updates about important student topics and how the University is responding to the coronavirus crisis.
I wish the best to each of you and your families.
Allen W. Groves
University Dean of Students
Student Affairs Services Available Remotely
Student Health & Wellness
Medical Services: 434-924-5362 during business hours (M-F, 8:00-4:30)
For urgent care after hours: 434-297-4261
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 434-243-5150 available 24/7
Student Disability Access Center (SDAC): SDAC@virginia.edu
Office of Health Promotion (Wahoo Well, Nutrition, Recovery): 434-924-1509
General Needs and on-Grounds Housing
Office of the University Dean of Students: 434-924-7133 or email@example.com
Office of the Vice President & Chief Student Affairs Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Housing & Residence Life: email@example.com
Urgent Student Needs
Dean-on-Call: 434-924-7133 during the day; 434-924-7166 after hours