Stanford scraps plans for most undergraduate on-campus housing, announces 'almost all' remote learning

STANFORD, Calif. (KGO) -- Stanford University is scrapping plans to provide undergraduate, on-campus housing, and "almost all" undergraduate in-person learning due to the pandemic. For now, changes would impact the autumn quarter.

In a letter out Thursday, university president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne wrote in-part:

"We will not be able to invite first-year, sophomore and new transfer undergraduate cohorts to be in residence on campus for the autumn quarter, as we had hoped. We also are planning for almost all undergraduate instruction to be delivered remotely during the autumn quarter, with very limited in-person offerings. "

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Undergraduate students told ABC7 News that the announcement was upsetting, but not surprising.

Elsa Wilbur is an incoming freshman, currently living in Virginia.

Reacting to Stanford's decision, she said, "I think we're all kind of getting used to being let down and knowing that we're going to miss out on a lot of stuff that would normally be in person."

"Quite shockingly, it's become normalized for our generation to some degree," incoming freshman, and Connecticut resident, Brian Wu added.

Both are referring to the same class whose senior year of high school was dramatically changed by the coronavirus pandemic. The impacts of COVID-19 are already altering their college experience.

"I try not to think about it because it kind of starts to hurt my heart a little bit," Wilbur said.

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She explained she hadn't started packing for the trip west, only because she anticipated plans would change.

Wu, on the other hand, said, "I'm an optimist. I had my plane ticket booked early. Thankfully, it's refundable. So, I could actually get all the money back."

However, Lenny DeFoe said the quintessential first-year experience is something money can't buy.

DeFoe is a senior at Stanford who is spending his last year remote learning from Michigan.

"Part of the college experience is just gaining independence, freedom, being away from home, and just finding yourself," he told ABC7 News.

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With regard to preparing for the upcoming quarter, DeFoe said, "When the university first was announcing their plans, they made a point to say that anything could change at any moment... so don't get comfortable with what we're announcing."

"I want to have a senior year. I want the freshmen to experience their first time in college, on-campus," he said. "What happens moving forward? What is winter quarter going to look like? Are the freshmen and sophomores going to be back then? Does that mean, juniors and seniors only get one quarter on campus in the spring?"

DeFoe, like Wilbur and Wu, will attend classes remotely this quarter, as almost all undergraduate instruction will be done remotely. So, even if returning to campus was an option, the experience would still be impacted by COVID-19.

Tessier-Lavigne's letter read, "This is a disappointing turn of events because so much of what makes Stanford a special place is embodied in the in-person interactions we have here."

"I know that our freshman experience still wouldn't be the one that they dream about," Wilbur noted. "We would still be taking classes mostly online."

Although at a distance and disappointed, Wilbur and Wu said they understand Stanford's decision.

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"I think this is a much better way to go about this, rather than moving into campus and having to leave in like two weeks," Wilbur said. "This is much safer for all of us."

Wu added, "It's unsustainable for Stanford to invite on half of its undergraduates back to campus for full quarter, only to have one person test positive and just force, everybody, out of campus again."

Tessier-Lavigne's letter confirmed Stanford would continue to offer on-campus housing to undergraduates who were previously approved, due to special circumstances.

Addressing graduate and professional students, the letter read:

"The living, dining and academic experiences of our graduate and professional students are generally quite different than those of our undergraduates. Even with the new guidance, we remain confident in our plans for these students to continue to reside and pursue their degrees on campus if they wish to. We will continue to provide information to graduate students about health protocols, academic program plans and other issues of concern to them."

Wu told ABC7 News, "I predict that Stanford's not going to be the last school. Unfortunately, many other schools might need to modify or cancel their plans because in order to minimize the chances of students or other faculty or staff members actually contracting the coronavirus while everybody is on campus."

DeFoe shared this message for incoming freshman, "Be strong, be understanding and whenever you can get back on campus, know you'll have an amazing time."

"When that day comes, I'll just be so happy," Wilbur added. "I don't think that's something that any of us are going to take for granted ever again."

To read Tessier-Lavigne's full autumn update, click here.

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