EVERETT — Distance learning is the new normal for Daniel Han, but unlike most students in this time of “Stay Home, Stay Healthy,” he’s far from his homeland. The 21-year-old from South Korea is one of more than 100 students staying in Everett Community College residence halls, although classes are online due to the coronavirus shutdown.
“Some of our students can’t afford to go home, and some don’t have another home. They don’t have the luxury to move out,” said Daria Willis, EvCC’s president.
She decided not to close Cedar Hall or Mountain View Hall, the college’s residence buildings, even as Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order has closed schools statewide.
“The president has been adamant,” said EvCC spokeswoman Katherine Schiffner. “We do not want to force people out who do not have another place to go.”
“It surely is unprecedented,” Willis said of the coronavirus crisis.
And at Edmonds College, about half of those normally in student housing are still there, said college spokeswoman Marisa Pierce.
More than a pre-nursing student, Han is a resident assistant at Mountain View Hall. That role as an RA means his housing is free.
Han’s situation is complicated by the fact that his parents aren’t home in Seoul.
“My parents are missionaries in Uganda,” he said Wednesday.
Borders were closed in that eastern African country after its first case of COVID-19 was reported last month, according to Bloomberg News.
“Originally I got a plane ticket home, but my mom canceled it and said I should stay here,” Han said.
Lea Wasson, an assistant director of residence life at EvCC, said 111 students remain in housing at the college. About 60% of them are international students. They’ve come to Everett from South Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Cameroon.
Normally, Mountain View houses up to 120 students in individual rooms. The capacity of the apartment-style Cedar Hall is 132, but Wasson said only about 35 students remain there during the campus shutdown.
Wasson is a live-in college employee who supervises Mountain View’s resident assistant staff and oversees the building day to day. Coronavirus measures mean stricter rules.
“There are no guests, no visitors,” she said.
So Han may no longer walk across the street to see friends in Cedar Hall.
As of last week, EvCC had one staff person and two students who had tested positive for coronavirus, Willis said.
Edmonds College and EvCC aren’t alone in keeping housing open. At the University of Washington, some students remain in residence halls, with the possibility of being moved to other buildings to ensure social distancing. The UW announced its move to online classes March 6.
The EvCC president said the college is committed to keeping most classes online through spring quarter.
“We’ve had a bare-bones staff on campus” Willis said. “It’s a very strict policy, fewer than 40 on campus.”
That number includes security and custodial staff.
Any staff member needing to be on campus must fill out a request form, and an hour before coming sign a form saying they have no symptoms, Willis said.
There’s now no food service at EvCC, but nearby take-out eateries are open. The Starbucks on North Broadway, normally packed with students, has kept its drive-thru open. And Amee Moon, an associate director of international student engagement at EvCC, takes students from residence halls on grocery shopping trips, Wasson said.
International students aren’t the only ones helped by Willis’ decision to keep residence halls open.
“We serve former foster youth and students who’ve experienced homelessness,” Wasson said.
Maintaining their housing keeps them on track with school and provides “that structure,” Wasson added.
At Edmonds College, Murad Dweekat is studying business management. Dweekat, 30, is Jordanian. Like Han, he’s a resident assistant.
Dweekat lives at Sophie Court, a townhouse-style student housing complex near Edmonds College. Rainier Hall and Spencer Court are other Edmonds College housing options, and a new complex, Triton Court, is expected to open later this year.
“Everything is online. The campus is closed,” said Dweekat, who moved here in 2019 after working in the United Arab Emirates.
With grocery stores and take-out restaurants open, it hasn’t been a struggle complying with coronavirus orders. His housing complex is quiet, which helps with studies. This spring quarter, he’s taking accounting, business law and a photography class.
“They give us good support,” he said of Edmonds College, which last week announced it was dropping “Community” from its name.
Dweekat’s parents, he said, have stricter coronavirus orders.
“In Jordan they cannot leave the house. It’s been two months now,” Dweekat said.
Yet he’s grateful that confinement has curbed the numbers of cases in his homeland. By April 1, just five COVID-19 deaths had been confirmed in Jordan.
“Everywhere, we’re worried about our families,” Dweekat said.
In the UAE, he worked as an educational counselor.
“Edmonds College has a good reputation in the Gulf states,” said Dweekat, who applied to the school because of its affordable tuition, on-campus housing and location.
Pierce, the Edmonds College spokeswoman, said residence halls there are at 50-60% occupancy. At the start of fall quarter, she said, residents included 65 student-athletes, at least 18 of them from Hawaii. Most of the athletes have gone home, she said.
At EvCC, Han is taking three classes this quarter — anthropology, nutrition and PE. So far, that PE class has included a study of muscles and “exercise by ourselves,” Han said.
Those needing access to computers for online classes got a boost last month. The EvCC Student Senate approved spending $175,000 for the purchase of about 700 Chromebooks. That money came from the student eTech fund. The college bought another 400 Chromebooks.
The new devices recently became available for qualifying EvCC students to rent for free.
“This is a monumental effort and one that warms my heart when we support one another,” Willis said.
Schiffner said EvCC hopes to resume some in-person labs and technical training in May, if possible.
“Faculty are adjusting,” she said. “They wouldn’t have chosen to teach online.”
For now, Han is focused on his goal of becoming a nurse — a critical profession in perilous times.
With the pandemic, he said, “I’ve wanted to pursue medicine more, so I could help people.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Financial aid help
Everett Community College is partnering with the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation to launch SwiftStudent. The free digital tool, powered by FormSwift, helps students with the financial aid appeals process and how to seek a possible adjustment in aid when economic circumstances change. The foundation was founded in 2019 by Abigail Seldin and Whitney Haring-Smith. Working with tech companies, its aim is to help struggling college students. Find help at: formswift.com/swift-student