University offers support, advice for off-campus students

May 07, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Throughout the pandemic Penn State has been active in offering support and advice to all of its students, including those who normally reside off campus.

“The welfare of our students remains our primary focus and concern,” said Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs. “This includes not only their health, safety and academic experience, but all the other elements that impacts experience.”

Sims, along with leaders from local government, sent a joint letter today (May 7) to off-campus students offering guidance on how to help maintain their health and safety, as well those around them, as they formulate their move-out plans with the conclusion of the spring semester.

He said, “Our central concern for the welfare of our students is coupled with concern for the welfare of our entire community, both on campus and off. The two concerns go hand in hand, particularly in the context of this virus, which knows no jurisdictional boundaries and can affect us all.”

“Thank you for caring about your University community and for your cooperation in returning for your belongings in a safe, orderly way that protects you and the community at large,” said the letter, which was signed by Sims; Eric Norenberg, executive director of the Centre Region Council of Governments; and Thomas Fountaine II, manager of State College Borough.

The letter reminded students to review the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website for updated guidance and restrictions before departing their home.

Students were asked to make preparations ahead of time, including coordinating with their property manager and roommates to stagger move-out dates and times; arriving with cleaning supplies and personal protection; and continuing practicing social distancing throughout the move-out process.

The letter also emphasized the need to avoid social gatherings and minimize move-out times.

“The whole community wants to see students return to in-person classes in the fall and wants to welcome graduating seniors back for a celebration of their accomplishments,” the letter said. “The choices you make when you return to gather your off-campus belongings will impact whether and when these aspirations are possible.”

More than a dozen student leaders from across the University also sent their own message of support to their peers, which was also signed by Sims.

“As we approach the dates originally planned for in-person commencement ceremonies, we all feel the desire to return to State College for one last hurrah; the impulse to do so is certainly understandable,” the students’ letter said. “However, Penn State’s fall semester and future lie in the wake of decisions that we make today, and a return to State College could jeopardize that future. The health of our community is paramount, and we must acknowledge that now is not the time for our reunion in State College.”

The students’ letter continued, “A piece of our legacy must be protecting our alma mater during this time. All of us wish that things could be different. We want the opportunity to see each other again, to remember the past several years together, and to recall why Penn State means so much to us. We can’t do that now, but the time will come. We WILL have our last hurrah together when it is safe to do so. … We will see each other again in the future, and at that time, we will celebrate.”

Charima Young, director of local government and community relations for the University, said Penn State has continually engaged with local government as well as landlords to discuss issues of importance to the community, students and their families throughout the pandemic. 

Young said University leadership, including President Eric Barron, has held a number of meetings with the State College Borough and local property owners over a range of topics, including lease issues, move-out strategies, best practices and community health and safety.

Sims said that for some issues, the Student Care and Advocacy office within Student Affairs has been able to assist students grappling with long-term illness, food or housing insecurity, academic distress and other challenges.

“There exists the Student Care and Advocacy Emergency Fund, which we’ve tapped to help students with a lot of their basic needs during the pandemic,” Sims said, adding that the fund is available to students at any Penn State location.

According to University Development, the fund has received more than 1,300 applications from students between March 16 and May 4, and provided $258,000 in emergency support.

In addition, Student Legal Services within Student Affairs is continuing to help students with free advice, representation, referrals and other legal services during the pandemic.

Kelly Mroz, student services manager for Student Legal Services, said her office will meet with students virtually to review their circumstances and potential options, including concerns raised by students over their existing leases.

“When students contact us, we review their lease and talk through the possible legal theories,” she said. “We answer any questions they have about eviction, late fees, credit reporting and legal processes.”

Mroz said Student Legal Services will also help to connect individuals with any Penn State resources that might be helpful in their particular situation.

For the latest information on Penn State’s response to the coronavirus, go to https://www.virusinfo.psu.edu/

Last Updated May 07, 2020