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At Michigan State, deciding whether to go home or stay for the meal plan

EAST LANSING—Hours after Michigan State University stopped all in-person classes on Wednesday amid news of a coronavirus outbreak in Michigan, the 50,000-student campus had already begun to look like a ghost town. 

Almost immediately after university officials announced the closure and encouraged students to leave campus until in-person classes resume April 20, many of its students began streaming out of dormitories and loading belongings into vehicles bound for their hometowns. They’ll spend the next several weeks receiving “virtual instruction” in their classes.

As they packed their belongings, students expressed a mix of excitement, frustration and worry about the shutdown. Top of mind for many: Will their grades suffer? And do they still have to pay for room and board in the interim?

“I want a refund,” said one student, who identified himself only as John. “I’m not living here. I’m not eating here, and I’m taking online classes when I paid for more.”

MSU has not indicated whether it will repay students for lodging, meals or any of the services they won’t receive if they leave campus.

Some students expressed concern that the quality of virtual instruction will be inferior to the in-classroom experience, while others doubted their own ability to focus without the structure of scheduled classes. As of mid-afternoon, students said they hadn’t received information from MSU officials about how the online classes will be conducted. 

“I feel like the rest of my semester is basically going to be self-taught,” said freshman Waabe Damboba, 18. “I’m already worried about the exam.”

Others welcomed the campus closure as a sort of extended spring break, just three days after students returned from the weeklong holiday. 

MSU officials have said dorms and campus meal services will remain open to accommodate students who are unwilling or unable to vacate campus. For international students, those from other states, low-income students and others, packing up and moving out may not be an option.

Gege Shang couldn’t go home if she tried. Travel home has become virtually impossible for the Chinese international student because of flight restrictions and mandatory quarantines enforced upon travel to and from China. 

Gege plans to spend the next several weeks studying from her off-campus apartment while avoiding large gatherings. Her parents, who live in northeastern China, have been forced to cancel plans to attend her graduation in May because airlines have canceled many flights between China and the United States. 

Despite the inconvenience, Gege said she is happy MSU is taking precautions to protect students and staff, noting that China’s decision to confine citizens to homes, close workplaces and schools and cancel public events has slowed the virus’ spread. Plus, she said, some students have already been avoiding crowds and reducing their trips to campus for some time.

“Our safety is more important than classes,” Gege said.

On Wednesday, many students practiced social distancing techniques such as wearing masks, avoiding physical contact and applying hand sanitizer as they hustled to clear out of campus. Others downplayed the threat.

Nicholas Moreno, 17, plans to continue living in his Holmes Hall dorm room, where he believes he stands a better chance of succeeding in online classes without distraction from his 4-year-old sister. And, he said, he wants to get his money’s worth out of the meal plan he purchased this semester. 

“I paid thousands of dollars to be here,” he said. “Plus, even if I’m home with my family, there’s no guarantee I won’t get sick. I might as well take my chances here.”

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