President William Behre sent an email Friday, February 28 alerting university stakeholders, including students and faculty, that all international spring break trips had been canceled due to the global outbreak of the coronavirus.
According to the CDC, the coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a respiratory disease that was first detected in China in December 2019 and has since spread to over 90 locations worldwide, including the United States. There are over 100,000 cases globally in over 80 countries, including Spain, Italy and Japan, where many Slippery Rock University students were planning to travel during spring break.
“As it is every day, the health and safety of our Slippery Rock University family – students, faculty and staff – is always our first priority,” Behre’s email read. “With that in mind, and taking into consideration all information currently available to us from the [CDC], U.S. State Department, World Health Organization and local governments, the university has made the decision to cancel all study abroad programming scheduled to occur during spring break.”
This decision doesn’t come without upset from professors and students alike. Dr. Christine Pease-Hernandez, associate professor of communication, was leading the communication department’s spring break program in Spain. She said though she understands why the decision was made, it’s still upsetting to her and her students.
“I think the hardest part of this is the students’ disappointment,” Pease-Hernandez said. “You know, I can go with my husband pretty much whenever, but it breaks my heart knowing how much the students were looking forward to going.”
Pease-Hernandez’s itinerary included exploring Seville, Granada and Malaga; visiting the Seville Cathedral, the Plaza de Toros and the Giralda Tower; and attending a Real Betis vs. Real Madrid soccer game.
“I’ve never received a response so quickly from students than when I told them about this soccer game,” she said. “Within 20 minutes, everyone had responded to my GroupMe message. One student even told me that, even though the university is concerned about the coronavirus, not going to Spain is worse for his health because he really wanted to go to that soccer game.”
Prior to Behre’s announcement of the spring break program cancellations, faculty program leaders met Friday, Feb. 28 to discuss the decision with Dr. Sam Heikinen, associate vice president for global engagement; Jenny Kawata, director for global exchanges and partnerships; and Dr. Jerry Chmielewski, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs. Pease-Hernandez said the Office for Global Engagement went through a very extensive process to ensure that the right decision was being made.
“There was too much at stake with the possibility of students or faculty getting sick and even being quarantined,” Pease-Hernandez said. “Everyone worrying about getting sick and all of these other issues would’ve really impacted the quality of the trip.”
She added that faculty were given a “heads-up” prior to the meeting with the Office for Global Engagement so that they weren’t completely blindsided by the decision. She said she admires and appreciates the Office for Global Engagement for prioritizing students’ health and safety.
Delaney Shaffer, a senior communication student, planned to attend the Spain program with Pease-Hernandez. She said the spring break program cancellations were distressing, especially because of all that she’d done to prepare for the trip.
“I worked all summer and saved so much money for this trip to Spain,” Shaffer said. “I know I’m getting reimbursed, but it’s still really upsetting. I’d been looking forward to this trip for a very long time.”
The Symphonic Wind Ensemble’s spring break program in Italy, led by Dr. Jonathon Helmick and Dr. Kathleen Melago, was the first to be canceled, before the meeting held with the Office for Global Engagement. The wind ensemble was going to travel to Milan, Triuggio and Venice.
Other spring break trips included the Health Care Administration and Management program’s trip to Spain, where they planned to visit hospitals in Madrid, Segovia and Barcelona; the English department’s trip to the Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park and Charles Dickens’ home in London, England; and the art department’s trip to the Netherlands and Belgium.