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The Virtual Mecca: Howard Goes Digital, Navigates Pandemic

By Virgil Parker, Staff Reporter

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

 Similar to the rest of the country, the Howard University community has been forced to respond to the challenges presented by the coronavirus (COVID-19). 

The virus, which has been classified a pandemic by the World Health Organization, has caused significant disruption to the operations of America. With the U.S. death toll reaching nearly 15,000, the situation has caused the President to extend social distancing until April 30. 

These guidelines have impacted students who have been asked to leave school for residential learning arrangements, professionals who have been asked by their organizations to telework and politicians who have implemented plans to manage the crisis.

Despite the traditional amount of limited resources that Historically Black Colleges and Universities possess, Howard has been able to formulate policies, contingency plans and sustainability strategies that allow the university to continue providing education.

Howard University Hospital has been designated as an official COVID-19 treatment facility. The federal government has allocated $13 million to Howard University through the $2 trillion stimulus package that was recently passed by Congress. The resources are to help address expenses affiliated with COVID-19. 

The Howard University Student Association (HUSA),  has been the voice for students to the administration throughout this entire process. HUSA shared on Twitter that they were prioritizing three main interests on behalf of the students: convincing the university to adopt an optional Pass/Fail grading system for students, easing the dormitory exit process for students and encouraging the administration to set an alternative commencement date. Additionally, HUSA is working to get a definitive date through which university students can return to campus and secure the remainder of their property.

The university first announced its plan to transition to online instruction on March 11, which was consistent with the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations for exercising social distancing and eliminating large gatherings. At the time, the university predicted a return to in-person instruction by April 6, 2020. 

New critical health developments and advice from government agencies caused the university to eliminate in-person instruction for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. Unfortunately, the March 16 notice inconvenienced many members of the Howard community.  

At the time of the announcement, several students had already left for their spring break. Additionally, other students who were still on campus had to restructure their plans to have their parents come to campus and retrieve an essential bulk of their belongings. 

Sagar Raju, one of Howard’s graduating seniors, gave his thoughts about how COVID-19 has affected the end of his collegiate career.

“The news of spending the rest of my senior year online didn’t really hit me until I got home and realized I may not see a lot of the people I have been going to school with for the last four years again. I have had so many great memories as an undergraduate student, and it’s sad that it had to come to end like this. And commencement is up in the air too, which is extremely unfortunate because after spending four or more years working to earn a degree, I believe everyone should get the recognition they deserve…by walking across the stage,” said Raju, a senior biology major. 

Following HUSA’s recommendation for Howard to adopt the Pass/Fail system, the university announced their approval of the adoption on Friday, March 27.

“This pandemic has slowed my academic and professional progression by hindering my abilities to network with teachers and professionals. This virus has canceled my travel plans for spring break to spend time with my parents and other family members,” said finance major Roger Lyn. 

The university shared in another announcement that it has made arrangements for students who were unable to transition from campus to a stable housing arrangement, and for other members of the Howard community who needed support.

According to President Frederick, the university acquired apartments for international students at its own expense, and it also sponsored travel for students who could not afford to return home. The university also acquired tablet devices for students who needed to participate in a remote learning environment. The administration also trained staff on how to utilize online platforms, and provided technological equipment when necessary. 

“Much of my life has been disrupted by the coronavirus. Several trips from spring break, to conferences and even summer plans were canceled. However, I do understand that this is a pandemic, so I’m trying to keep an open and flexible mind during these times,” said Howard University undergraduate trustee Marquis Taylor, a senior history major.

Along with sharing the provisions that the university provided for the community to smooth the transition to online learning, President Frederick also announced refunds for room and board charges and other university-related expenses. The university will continue to provide updates for COVID-19 related information here.