When Georgetown announced its Fall 2020 plan on July 6, Sheila Cruz-Morales (COL ’22) and her sister, Melanie (COL ’22) noticed something—they, along with over 100 other incoming transfer students, were not explicitly mentioned in the plan.
Incoming transfer students, according to later communication to the students and confirmed by a university spokesperson, will not be invited to live on campus or attend classes in person this fall, a decision that upset members of the transfer community, who consider themselves first-year students. In response, they began circulating a petition asking for the university to reconsider the status of transfer students this fall.
Thomas Leonard (COL ’22) knew that his first semester at a four-year college wasn’t going to be traditional or what he had originally expected, but he was still surprised when he received the email.
“I was shocked at seeing announcements come out and transfer students never once even being mentioned,” he said.
“One of the reasons that I was very interested in applying to and hopefully attending Georgetown is they place so much emphasis on caring for the transfer community and really making them feel valued and like they have an important place on campus, and seeing all the plans coming out on social media and the emails and never once being mentioned was a little disheartening.”
According to the plan, Georgetown is prepared to bring 2,000 undergraduates to campus in the fall as health conditions permit. Though concerns over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will prevent the university from opening at full capacity, all incoming freshmen, as well as students with circumstances that prevent them from learning or residing at home and students with specific program needs that require them to be on campus, will move into the dorms in August. While transfer students are normally treated similarly to freshmen, participating in New Student Orientation and other welcoming activities, Georgetown decided they would not be guaranteed a spot on campus. Though universities have announced a range of plans for the fall semester, Harvard and Bowdoin, which both have similar plans to Georgetown, included transfer students in the groups given priority on campus.
The Cruz-Morales sisters, along with the rest of the transfer group chat, had been waiting to hear whether they would be invited to campus. As rumors spread that first-years would be prioritized, they grew hopeful.
“We are first-years, because you know it’s our first year at the school, so we were a little confident that we were gonna be prioritized,” Sheila said.
In the university-wide email, President John DeGioia wrote that one of the groups that would be allowed to live on campus was “members of the first-year class, the Class of 2024.” While this wording confused transfer students, they soon received confirmation from peer advisors via email and GUSA that they were considered upperclassmen, and expected to start virtually. This was upsetting to many students, Sheila reported, because it both cut their already limited time at Georgetown short and made it harder to adapt to being on campus.
“Many of us would only have two years at Georgetown, so that means that we’d only have one full year on campus,” she said. “That definitely takes away from our experience and our identity as Georgetown students.”
In response to the plan, Melanie, with the help of other incoming transfer students, crafted the petition asking the university to include them in the fall plan, and allow them to return to campus if they desired. The petition, which has 504 signatures at the time of publication, points out that while the Fall 2020 transfer class is not technically composed of “first-years,” it still includes students who have never lived on Georgetown’s campus or taken classes at the university.
“Incoming transfer students have not had the chance to experience the Georgetown campus and D.C. community,” the petition reads. “Not being on campus would deprive us of the full campus experience that many transfer students committed to Georgetown specifically for.”
If they cannot come to campus in the fall, the petition asks that transfer students be given priority in the spring if housing is still limited. Most transfer students also support the university providing housing for international students whose residency in the country has been threatened, and students who need the resources, according to Sheila.
The needs of the transfer class are similar to that of the incoming freshman class, the petition argues, citing a line from Georgetown’s plan that reads “The initial transition to college life and a campus community is critical for framing an academic career at Georgetown.” None of this, the petition argues, exempts transfer students.
“A big part for transfer students is deciding where they are going to continue their education, and no one chose to continue their education online,” Leonard said. Though he acknowledged no one’s fall semester is going to be what they had hoped for, the fact that transfer students are moving universities often makes their decision to enroll even more significant. “What would have been ideal, I thought, is if when the university said first-year they included all the first-year students.”
One of the organizations designed to support transfer students on campus is the Transfer Council, which is currently headed by Audrey Simmons (COL ‘21). According to Simmons, the group was not consulted prior to the release of the plan, nor have they been contacted by the university since. She reported that the board of the council agrees that the current plan disregards transfer students and is working to ensure incoming transfer students are prioritized in mid-semester returns and the spring.
“A virtual environment can never replicate the experience of being on campus, especially in a student’s first semester,” Simmons wrote in an email. “While we recognize that allowing all students back would be impossible and unsafe, we also know that virtual learning is an even greater burden on students who have not had the chance to form relationships on campus and become involved in extracurricular activities.”
Transfer students come from different backgrounds, including four-year institutions and community colleges, Sheila pointed out, and may need more support when they begin Georgetown classes. She and her sister attended community college and lived at home for the past two years, and while they are excited to begin classes, they feel they, and others coming from two-year schools, may need support that will be hard to get virtually.
“If they understand that for the freshmen, how do they not understand that for us too?” Sheila asked. “We’re all new students, we barely know anyone, we barely know our resources, our community, who to get help from, so we’re confused as to why it didn’t apply to us.”
This transfer class is composed of about 125 students, according to the petition. Though Georgetown is only planning to bring 2,000 students to campus, the petition points out the university technically has 2,900 single rooms, and that some of those could be used to house the transfer class without a significant health threat.
Though Georgetown’s stated reason for not including transfer students in the group that will be on campus in the fall was to reduce on-campus density, it has had the effect of transfer students feeling forgotten and pushed aside, according to Sheila. This has been exacerbated as neither individual students, nor the group, have heard back from the university about their concerns.
“We’re important students, and we might come from different places, but I think we are still very valuable to the school,” she said.
According to a university spokesperson, other measures will be taken to integrate transfer students into the university community.
“In order to keep the density low we are not at this time bringing transfer students onto campus, though we hope that the public health situation will change and allow for additional groups of students, including transfers, to come to campus in subsequent stages,” they wrote in an email to the Voice. “We are planning for a roster of activities and virtual engagements that will support our transfer students in their assimilation into the Georgetown community.”
Though Leonard would like to hear more about the resources that may be available to incoming transfers, he doesn’t pretend it will replace the on-campus experience. “We’re in a situation where we feel like what we applied for will be far from what we get in terms of education,” he said.
Like incoming freshmen, incoming transfer students had to submit a deposit before fall plans were announced. According to Sheila, some transfer students have expressed regret at their decision to transfer, especially if they came from a four-year school that is welcoming most students back this fall, because they are missing out on an on-campus experience.
Leonard reported he has seen transfer students considering a range of options, from taking a leave of absence or taking classes part-time to accepting admission from another school. Some are deciding not to transfer at all.
“A lot of the transfer students are really feeling pretty anxious and confused about what they’re going to be doing,” he said.
Leonard himself has always considered Georgetown his top choice, so he plans to stay—though he may take a leave of absence this year as he’s not sure he can make the financial sacrifice of paying for online classes. His dean is receptive, and Leonard is looking forward to when he can be in D.C. and see the aspects of the Georgetown community he is so drawn to.
This is what most of the transfer students want at the end of the day, Sheila said.
“Overall you just want to get a sense of community, you want to learn what Georgetown is about, you want to learn how it is, you want to experience it.”