International students grapple with unanswered questions, as the deadline to declare remote study approaches

Students may request a change to on-campus study after June 26 but would be placed on a waitlist for housing, according to a June 24 email from the University Registrar.

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Students dance in Café con Leche, the annual cultural showcase hosted by the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS). (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

Emma Mattson, Copy Editor

Vanderbilt’s Return to Campus plan, released on June 15, requires all students who wanted to study remotely in Fall 2020 to declare their intention to do so by June 26. 

“After this deadline, students will be unable to apply for remote-only instruction,” the Return to Campus website states.

With the deadline hours away, international students still grapple with ambiguous answers to some of their most pressing questions. 

Will remote study students receive refunds for on-campus costs if they declare after June 26?

The June 24 email sent to international students did not clarify whether students would receive refunds for housing, dining and insurance costs (on-campus costs) if they were unable to return to campus in the fall and had not declared their intention to study remotely by June 26. 

Neither the Office of Housing and Residential Experience (OHARE) nor International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) immediately responded to a request for comment.

Screenshot taken from @joyzhang_xy. (Hustler Staff/Screenshot taken by Emma Mattson)

According to the Return to Campus website, “The decision to begin the semester enrolled in on-campus instruction will be accompanied by acknowledgement of responsibility for full payment of tuition, housing costs and relevant fees. No refunds will be issued if the need to finish the semester remotely arises.” 

For many students, it is still unclear whether “the decision to begin the semester” refers to the June 26 decision deadline or the start of classes on Aug. 24.

According to Joy Zhang, a rising sophomore from China, a Fall 2020 Helpline representative speaking on June 24 said that international students could receive refunds if they declared remote study after June 26. The representative later added that Zhang should wait for updates regarding refunds on the Return to Campus website, Zhang said.

There have not been any relevant updates to the Return to Campus website, as of publication.

“We cannot simply ‘contemplate’ where policy is going,” Zhang said in a message to The Hustler, “especially if the school might not even give students a refund if we can’t return due to external factors.”

For Chinese international student Carys Li, the overall question is simple but urgent.

“What does clicking the ‘remote study’ button mean to us? And what are the effects?” Li said in a message to The Hustler.

Will Vandy ensure housing for students who request a change to on-campus study after June 26? 

A June 24 email from the Office of the University Registrar stated that all international undergraduate students who do not believe they can complete the fall semester on campus should declare their intention to study remotely by June 26. 

According to the email, however, students may request a change to on-campus study after June 26 if they receive a valid visa for studying in the United States and are able to travel to the United States in time for the beginning of the fall semester. Such students would be placed on a waitlist for housing, the email said. 

“If students declare remote study as Vanderbilt encourages us to do so, and later find out that we are able to return to campus, how likely will Vanderbilt still have housing available for us?” Li said. “Will Vandy assist us [in] arranging off-campus housing if dorms are all unavailable?”

Li, a rising sophomore and the incumbent president of the Vanderbilt University Chinese Students and Scholars Association (VUCSSA), said that VUCSSA students she has spoken with were eager to return to campus but didn’t know when they’d be allowed to enter the United States.

“I completely understand that Vandy wants to calculate the number of student[s] returning to campus for the sake of arranging housing and classrooms and etc, and hence the 6/26 deadline,” Li said in a message to The Hustler, “but they should have considered the fact that right now it’s NOT up to us to choose either option.” 

Screenshot taken from @vandyfirstvu. (Hustler Staff/Screenshot taken by Emma Mattson)

Will the Student Health Insurance Plan cover COVID-related costs after July 24?

Other international students, like Krisha Shah, a rising first-year from India, say they’re worried about health insurance coverage. All international students are required to purchase the Student Health Insurance Plan provided through Vanderbilt, which costs $3,655 for the 2020-21 year.

Shah said she worries about the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus, and she wanted to make sure COVID-related would be protected by insurance.

“If I get the virus, I will not be able to afford the huge costs that come with it,” Shah said. “That’s something I really want to clear up.”

According to the Return to Campus website, the Student Health Insurance Plan purchased through Vanderbilt will completely cover all costs for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and treatment through July 24, 2020. 

“After July 24, 2020, the student’s insurance benefits as outlined in their insurance brochure, including their deductible and copays, will apply,” the website states.

Screenshot taken from @sophiachuer. (Hustler Staff/Screenshot taken by Emma Mattson) (Emma Mattson)

According to the 2019-20 Vanderbilt University Summary brochure, the deductible for preferred providers is $250 per person per policy year with an out-of-pocket maximum is $5,000 per person per policy year. For out-of-network providers, the deductible is $500 per person per policy year with no out-of-pocket maximum. 

Further, the brochure, as of publication, does not include any details regarding coverage for COVID-related costs.

ALAS Survey

Lucas Martim de Lima Portilho, a rising sophomore from Brazil, created a survey to gather feedback from Vanderbilt students on the Return to Campus Plan as a whole.

The Evaluation of the Return to Campus Plan Survey, facilitated by Vanderbilt’s Association of Latin American Students (ALAS) is only open to Vanderbilt students, and submissions will remain entirely anonymous, Portilho said.

“Through the survey, we will be able to present the administration with the necessary information to ensure that they have a realistic perception of how the plan is affecting Vanderbilt’s students,” Portilho said in a message to The Hustler. “Essentially, we want to ensure that every student’s voice is heard!”