Op-ed: Victoria College’s negligent eviction of students placed an unfair burden on international students

Short notice and lack of communication exaggerated feelings of anxiety and financial strain
YOON-JI KWEON/THE VARSITY
YOON-JI KWEON/THE VARSITY

I’m writing this on a word document before my computer battery dies in the hope that other University of Toronto students are aware of some of the administrative decisions that Victoria College made during the COVID-19 crisis which have led to my sincere disappointment as a member of Victoria College’s international student community.

It’s a Sunday night during the prime deadline period for U of T assignments. The power in my house is out. We’ve had a power outage since this morning, and the electricity probably won’t come back until late tomorrow. I have no light. I can’t charge any electronics, and I can’t even take a shower that isn’t bitterly cold. 

I’m still way more fortunate than the majority of the population in Brazil, because at least I have access to clean water, but I’d be writing this in the complete dark if it weren’t for the dim light of the candles that my parents lit in the kitchen. 

On a normal day, not having electricity wouldn’t be a huge concern for me, but today it is. I have an ECO230 — International Economic Institutions and Policy assignment due tonight, and I’ve had to struggle to somehow connect my computer to a cell phone hotspot. I haven’t had time to get a Brazilian phone plan since being kicked out of Vic residence, so I had to use my mother’s phone. 

The worst part is that I worked hard on this assignment in the hopes that I could submit it early, even in the midst of such crazy circumstances. It all feels very unfair and completely out of my control.

One of my main takeaways from this experience? Whoever runs Vic residence clearly doesn’t know what it’s like to live in the global south.

On Tuesday, March 17, all students in Victoria College’s residences received an email with a notice stipulating that they must leave by Thursday, March 19. According to the email, exceptions to this rule included international students, out of province students, students who were self-isolating, and students who required special accommodations. My roommates and I thought this meant that we were exempt from this demand, and that our international status would allow us to safely stay in residence. So, we carried on as normal, working on our assignments. 

I do concede that our failure to follow up with the dean’s office and ensure that we were in the clear was a mistake — but even so, the administration should have been clearer in this regard. 

The email led to a significant number of international students, including many of my friends, mistakenly believing that we would be allowed to stay until April 26. 

Two days later, a mini stage of panic ensued. One of our friends, who is an international student, had called the dean’s office to ask about administrative changes related to COVID-19, and learned that we were actually expected to leave residence. The staff had informed him that he had to leave by Saturday, even though he was an international student. 

My roommates and I began to panic: four international students rushing to call their respective families through Whatsapp and figure out what to do. 

Victoria College wasn’t clear about this at all. We learned that we had to leave not through official channels, but through our friend’s Instagram messages. 

Upon speaking to staff from the dean’s office, I learned that they saw this as an error of communication. They meant to convey that some students would gain a few extra dates to adjust, but they were still expected to leave residence as soon as possible.

However, this miscommunication was one that could be solved with a few phone calls. My complaint is rooted far deeper than that.

Victoria College did not implement any sort of consultation process with students to understand what conditions it would be sending their students back to. It should have at least extended mechanisms in order to allow for accommodations based on students’ individual situations. Instead, what I noticed at Victoria College was that, rather than a system of accommodation and understanding, there was an unfair situation where students had to practically beg to stay. 

Students who were more articulate or outspoken and who ‘pressed on’ had a larger chance of being granted an extension. In my case, I was privileged because I’m part of Vic’s student government, and thus already know and speak with the dean’s office staff on a regular basis. 

Although I made sure to tell them about my situation, other students didn’t have the chance to share their concerns about their home conditions or about needing more time. 

Speaking with staff at the dean’s office is scary when you’ve been told you have to leave by a certain deadline. Even so, asking for accommodations wasn’t that effective. One of my close friends was begging the staff, crying on the phone, until they allowed him to stay an extra week. Accommodations shouldn’t be given on a basis of who pressures the most, because not all students are comfortable doing so.

We were given a notice that said we had to leave, and a form to fill out with our intended date of departure and questions on how we planned to store our belongings.

I don’t mean to demonize Victoria College. It did communicate clear dates when food services would close, and by what date students had to leave. But there was no effort at all to understand who qualified for the accommodations, and many students didn’t even know that they were eligible for an extension. 

During my phone call to the dean’s office, I told them that my parents were retired and that my father has an autoimmune disease, so I was concerned about returning home. I also told them that my father had surgery for a pulmonary embolism last year, and that I was also concerned about any possible complications stemming from respiratory issues.  

However, I want to reiterate that my concern isn’t solely health related. Regardless of whether my father, or any international student’s father would actually contract COVID-19, the problem lies with the burden of stress that comes with Vic admin putting us in this negligent and unfair situation on top of an already stressful workload and fast-changing routine. 

It’s exhausting to deal with having to buy an incredibly expensive flight ticket because you have to leave the country on three days notice. One of the reasons why this situation was negligent and unfair is because of the sheer exhaustion that comes from having to deal with our evictions. 

When I speak of negligence, I speak in part of the Victoria administration placing burdens on students that were avoidable and unnecessary, and the mental toll that accompanied this. What hurt me most through this whole process was that Victoria College evicted us and treated us as a legal liability. It made me feel as though, to Vic, we weren’t a priority.

At its core, my complaint is that being forced to move out of the country by residence administrators led to an even quicker state of burnout for international students. At the end of it all, we were all exhausted in a way that I can’t even describe.

Lucy Alves Pache de Faria is a third-year International Relations and Political Science student at Victoria College. Pache is the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council’s Academic Commissioner.

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