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COVID-19: The Voice of SUNY

Families and students of the State University of New York watched the escalation of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) with angst over the past few weeks as the landscape of our world seemingly altered on a daily basis. Recently, the virus has spread throughout the United States and has had a particular impact on higher education. Wednesday, March 11th Governor Cuomo followed recommendations made by the New York State Department of Health when he announced that the CUNY and SUNY systems would be transitioning to distanced learning beginning March 19th. This decision provided a sense of solace for the over 1.4 million members of the SUNY family but simultaneously raised many concerns. While many felt relieved, the announcement led to widespread uncertainty for many students regarding the future of their educational journeys. Students who relied on their institution to provide them with three meals a day and a place to sleep, international students, students studying abroad, and students with no access to technology beyond the classroom were left feeling hopeless and confused. Questions about whether or not students would graduate on time, how they would conduct practical studies, and how students with disabilities could make it through this transitional period were raised during many of the conversations had amongst SUNY administrators and concerned students.

It is a priority for SUNY Chancellor, Kristina Johnson, to ensure that students throughout all 64 campuses have their concerns and their needs met. The virus has led to the entirety of the SUNY system joining forces like never before and efforts have been made to keep campuses open, including dorms, food services, and specialized instructional space. The health, safety, and well-being of students and families is at the forefront of SUNY’s response to this crisis. SUNY also recognizes the importance of its students graduating on time and not having their academic timelines disrupted. Academic continuity officers have been assigned to every campus and have been assisting in this transition to learning off campus. Classes that can be conducted online will be done accordingly but lab classes, and other vocational studies will be held in their traditional setting. In a time when thousands of State University of New York families and students are feeling the effects of COVID-19 it is ever more important that they know the Student Assembly is a resource for everyone on a campus, system, and state level.

The Student Assembly is composed of the brightest, most dedicated students from throughout the SUNY system and serves as the representative voice for students. During this transitionary period, the Student Assembly is working closely with Chancellor Johnson to support SUNY’s vision of supportive, inclusive, and accessible education for all. Many leaders in the Student Assembly also are the leaders of their respective campuses and can serve as a liaison. Many others have been active on social media sharing resources available to students throughout the state such as a free month of storage for displaced students, offered by UHaul. President of the Student Assembly, Austin Ostro has dedicated his time in hosting virtual town halls where students could present the concerns they and their campuses may have. All of the challenges posed are taken very seriously by SUNY administration and were relayed accordingly. No one challenge is the same and they will continue to rise which is why a third town hall will be hosted in conjunction by President Ostro and SUNY administrators on Wednesday, March 18th at 8:00 PM . The SUNY Student Assembly is committed to working with Chancellor Johnson and her team to engage with students and families throughout New York to foster support to all those who are affected by COVID-19. In the coming weeks it is important now more than ever that the mission for accommodating and responsive education in SUNY is fought for. The SUNY Student Assembly offers support during this tumultuous time to any student, faculty, or staff member and will remain connected with the entirety of the SUNY system. The student voice has never been so powerful and the struggles we all face are important and we care, deeply. Your words will be shared with SUNY administration and your concerns will be addressed. Please, do not hesitate to reach out to services on your own campus and most importantly, be an advocate for those around you.

March 18 Town Hall Meeting:

You can reach the SUNY Student Assembly via email at

Written by Thomas Leonard, Sustainability Chair, Rockland Community College

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