I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it has been a week. I couldn’t have imagined how this Monday would look when I wrote about last Monday’s schedule (check it out: https://rileyv.com/index.php/2020/03/12/a-day-in-the-life/) but here we are. And it’s wild. This is how the shutdown happened, and how the future looks for both Harvard students and military members.
Harvard – Before
Monday, March 9
Last Monday, all HLS students anticipated switching from in-person to remote classes after spring break…and that’s it. Not great, but not the worst. Everyone planned to stick around campus and gather in small groups for classes in Wasserstein. It sounded kind of fun; wear sweats, mute your computer, and mess around with your pals while the prof lectured. The biggest annoyance would be cold-calls through an electronic medium.
Tuesday, March 10
Halfway through our Criminal Law class on Tuesday morning, we got an email instructing all Harvard students to start remote academics immediately, not return to campus after break, and limit interactions to groups of twenty-five or less.
Our last class was scheduled for Thursday, and suddenly people were thinking maybe they should go home for SB and stay home. But most, including myself, decided to travel and return to Cambridge as originally planned. Additionally, the undergraduates were asked to leave their dorms, so sign-up sheets and google docs began circulating with offers of spare mattresses, storage space, and rides to and from the airport. We felt terrible, but had no idea that HLS students would get the same email later that night.
Wednesday, March 11
Wednesday morning was c h a o s. We still had two classes, one morning and one afternoon, and the morning class was missing quite a few people as they scrambled to move out of the dorms. We spent half the class discussing the developments and contingency plans for after the break (our professor is a bit advanced in age, and not confident about his Zoom abilities). After class, we clustered into two groups and tried to figure out who had cars, storage space, or just a pair of hands to help move everyone out. It was a mess.
Our Torts professor originally moved our afternoon class to Zoom, but realized how awful the situation was and ultimately cancelled the class altogether. So suddenly, at 10:45 on Wednesday morning, we’re all sitting around our last class going…is this it? Is 1L over?
And, yea – it kinda was.
Thursday, March 12 & Friday, March 13 (fitting)
The rest of Wednesday through Friday was a scramble to pack up the dorms before people’s spring break flights, which were now end-of-year flights. Students were, understandably, hurt and frustrated by their abrupt eviction from the dorms, and they made it known immediately; several students even staged a mini-protest outside the Dean of Students’ office. The administration heard their message, and has since responded as best they can. They’ve offered to pay for moving services and flights, provided moving supplies, and promised that NO ONE would be kicked out of the dorms if they didn’t have a place to go.
During this time, I had it comparatively easy to my classmates who lived on campus, and even a few who also lived off-campus. For us, Ben’s job is here; we don’t plan to move until we PCS; and I don’t really have another ‘home’ – this is my home! So my Thurs and Fri were dedicated to helping classmates move, and doing Last Suppers with friends that I won’t see again until 2L.
Harvard – After
Unfortunately, it’s only gone downhill since last Friday. HLS cancelled every event for the rest of the school year and instructed staff to work remotely. They’ve closed all buildings on campus, including the library, and left only limited dining hall take-out and mail services intact. Try-outs for various organizations and journals have been postponed, deadlines have been extended, and our 1L Mock Trial was cancelled altogether. No oral arguments for the Harvard Class of 2022!
However, there are still looming concerns about re-starting school next Monday. Most people are home now, but had to leave their things in Cambridge; some are trying to sublet their apartments because they won’t be back until fall (I have one friend who is flying back to Boston today, packing his car as full as possible, and driving back to Nebraska); some are trying to return to Cambridge because their homes don’t offer stable, academic environments. Many students are on the West Coast – where an 8 am class turns into a 5 am class – or have gone back to their home countries altogether. Additionally, some students will have to share wifi in their homes, don’t have video cameras, or may experience connectivity issues which prevent them from ‘attending’ classes. In response to these concerns, the administration has decided to record and post class sessions online, which they usually refuse to do.
Summer jobs are also up in the air; some firms have stopped hiring, leaving tons of law students without jobs. Additionally, all spring exams will have to be administered remotely and grading is a HOTLY contested topic. This week, the HLS administration issued an option for students to take their spring classes Pass/Fail, or receive grades on the normal DS/H/P/LP scale. We have to let the registrar know which option we want by April 17. This was met with heavy criticism for the following reasons:
- Many people want to take the Pass/Fail option, but don’t want their transcripts to look bad to future employers.
- The choice disadvantages people who were upended during this whole thing, because it may look as if they were lazy/”couldn’t hack it” as well as their classmates who still got grades during spring semester.
- It advantages those who aren’t upended and choose the grade option (and some have pointed out that the dorms were the most diverse part of campus, so this splits along very socioeconomic lines)
- People shouldn’t be worrying about their grades right now. There are bigger fish to fry.
Schools like Michigan, Stanford, and Berkeley have implemented blanket P/F for spring 2020, and a letter from the 1Ls and 3Ls are currently heading to our administration. Of course, there are counterarguments to the blanket policy as well, but – I’m staying tuned in for the verdict!
**UPDATE: Harvard has since implemented mandatory Pass/Fail for all Spring 2020 classes and clinics.
An additional note – I don’t mean to suggest that this ONLY happened at Harvard. From what I can tell, these concerns and realities are consistent across all legal institutions, and likely every academic institution in America.
Unfortunately, I’m writing this in Cambridge instead of Colorado because the Department of Defense has issued a travel ban until May 11. No one associated with the military can leave their local area, which is set by each individual unit (for example, my local area in Minot had an 8-hr radius; here, it’s probably closer). So everyone had to cancel trips from now until then, which unfortunately included my spring break and a Vegas foray for Ben. Still – in my opinion, it’s a small price to pay to flatten the curve and keep people safe.
However, that travel ban has more severe consequences for other service members. The policy eliminates all military moves until May 11 – including permanent changes of station, temporary assignments, and deployments. So, many many troops are stuck in limbo – whether they were mid-move and trapped wherever they stopped, or had their deployments extended for two entire months.
Additionally, the people in my old job (missileers) work 24/7, 365 days a year – and that can’t stop for any reason. So they’re implementing crazy, once-in-a-lifetime rotations (four people, doing that mission, FOR 14 DAYS STRAIGHT – as well as all the cops, chefs, and facility managers upstairs.) It’s absolutely nuts and I have to remember the sacrifices that other people are making, even though I may be relatively unaffected.
Some missions can be postponed, but never the nuclear one. If you want to read more, here’s a great article straight from Air Force magazine! https://www.airforcemag.com/stratcom-triads-isolation-keeps-nuke-operations-normal-amid-outbreak/.
You’re probably familiar with the scene outside of Harvard and the Air Force. Trips and graduations are cancelled, weddings postponed, gyms and stores are closed, restaurants are take-out only, and…toilet paper is being poached???? Smh. Everyone in Boston is taking social distancing seriously (after the bars closed, it was game over) and I’ve only seen people out for grocery runs or regular runs.
Ben and I are also keeping our distance; he’s working from home every other day, and I’ve been camping out on the couch for about a week. My days are entirely devoted to Netflix, cleaning the apartment, working on various essays (an utter waste if we DO go with P/F grading), online yoga and jazzercise classes, and planning future trips. I have to leave the apartment once a day so I don’t go insane, but it’s usually for a short trip around the pond. Additionally, Ben and I just saw a news report about a shortage of blood, so we’re looking for opportunities to donate both blood and money.
I don’t think this is a two-week affair. I have a feeling the remainder of my Harvard 1L will transpire alone in my apartment, with rear end parked firmly on the couch. Nevertheless, Ben and I are definitely looking on the bright side. Our friends and family are healthy and safe; no one is out of a job, and we’re not in danger of losing ours. I hope the same can be said for all of you reading this! In the coming weeks, if there is anything I can do to help you, please let me know – I’ll be at 655 Concord Ave, chilling in my sweats and scoping out the lowest flight prices possible. A $400 round trip to Europe for Christmas 2020?? I mean…if you insist!