On Monday, Feb. 25, visions of an enriching four month study abroad experience came to a sudden halt for Fairfield students in Florence, Italy. With rapidly increasing numbers of coronavirus cases throughout Italy, the Office of the Provost informed the university community that they had “made the decision to close the Florence University of the Arts study abroad program.” The email added that the 142 students enrolled at FUA would be required to depart Italy by Saturday, Feb. 29 and were to return to Fairfield’s campus on March 15.
The university’s announcement followed the confirmation of multiple cases of the Novel Coronavirus by Italian health officials. According to official documentations by the Italian Department of Civil Protection, the first two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Jan. 31. Thereafter, the number of documented cases has escalated to over 3,000 with over 100 deaths by March 4.
While the number of cases remains most concentrated in Lombardy, a region 146 miles north of Florence, the number of the infected is widespread, with 38 confirmed cases in Tuscany, the region in which Florence is located. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has placed a level three warning on travel to Italy. Their website reads that the “CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Italy. There is limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas.”
On March 4, the government of Italy announced that in order to combat the coronavirus outbreak, they are closing all public schools and universities in the country from March 5 to March 15 according to Business Insider.
The director of the Student Health Center, Julia Duffy, provided further explanation that it was appropriate to take guidance as such from the CDC to avoid the worst possible scenario.
“Bringing our students home from Italy at this point in time decreases their risk of disease exposure and mandatory quarantine for an uncertain period of time,” Duffy said. “The health and safety of our students is our first priority.”
However, allegedly not all students have been compliant with the university’s request for a mandatory quarantine. An email was sent out to Fairfield’s student body on March 3 due to concerns raised that some students who had recently returned from Florence had been seen recently on-campus. These former FUA students had been informed not to visit campus or the Fairfield beach area until their intended return on March 15, 2020 by vice president for student life, Karen Donoghue.
In an effort to avoid the spread of the “highly communicable” Novel Coronavirus, the university has reminded students that the refusal to abide by these requests could result in referral “to the Office of the Dean of Students and the student conduct process.”
There has also been speculation regarding whether or not there is potential for the program’s eventual return to FUA. According to Jennifer Anderson, vice president for marketing and communications at Fairfield, there is no possibility that these students will be able to return to Florence.
“The University considered multiple factors in the decision to close the Florence program including the health and safety of students, the risk of country quarantines, potential loss of academic credits and timing within the semester,” said Anderson.
In the ensuing days of the Provost’s announcement, frustration and concern were felt throughout the university community. Among the most affected by the university’s decision are undoubtedly the students returning from abroad, who will now enter a period of transition back to campus. The University has provided them with the option to enroll in either hybrid or online courses to complete the semester.
In regards to housing, Anderson said, “the university is working with returning students as well as current students on campus who have vacancy in their townhouse or apartments.”
Although Fairfield has devised this plan, the repercussions of the decision appear to be numerous for returning students who feel they have been cheated, both academically and financially.
“I feel like I’m being ripped off,” expressed Isabella Bellini ‘21, who was studying abroad in Florence. “I was supposed to be here until June 26 to complete my minor, and now it’s too late for me to get an internship [in the United States].”
A particular point of frustration for Bellini was the amount of funds she put into the experience with the expectation that it would eventually reap the benefits of what a study abroad semester has to offer.
“I put so much money into it: my permit of stay, my visa….this was my dream ever since I was little,” lamented Bellini.
“I’m so sad and mad at the same time,” said Julia Greco 21’, another Florence student sharing in Bellini’s frustration. “I really wish they didn’t make a rash decision to pull us out when there were only two cases reported in Florence, and we’re going back to America, which also has a lot of cases, so it doesn’t make any sense.”
Greco was also bothered by a lack of communication from both Fairfield and FUA. While she and her parents have inquired about further details on the decision, they have not felt satisfied with the response.
“All the other programs get to stay and were just advised against travel, and I feel like that makes the most sense,” expressed Greco. “I also don’t understand why Florence is the only program being removed when there’s the same amount or more cases of [the coronavirus] in Barcelona, London and Greece where Fairfield kids are also studying.”
Evidently, the measures taken by the university have been an upsetting reality for multiple parties, and it is an unfortunate truth for the students who will not be able to return to Florence.
Plenty of confusion regarding this decision is still to be defused. As the university begins to welcome back returning students following spring break, students and faculty must work together to proceed in spite of these unforeseen circumstances.