- As colleges across the nation welcome students back to campus, those welcome letters also come with agreements that outline what students can and can’t do.
- Stanford University, for example, has students sign a “campus compact,” in which students agree not to party, keep gatherings limited, social distance, and wear face masks.
- The compact also outlines a range of consequences, like removal from campus housing – and for international students like Audrey Pe, the consequences are constantly on her mind.
- You can find all of Insider’s stories from college freshman here. If you’re a student with a story to share, get in touch.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Each week, an email arrives notifying Audrey Pe that her COVID-19 results have arrived.
Pe, a freshman at Stanford University, experiences a rush of adrenaline every time she sees the message in her university-issued inbox. It’s a stomach-dropping, heart-racing feeling, “like college admissions all over again,” the 19-year-old told Insider.
For many students at Stanford University, getting tested and receiving results has become a normal part of their unconventional semester. But the stakes feel higher for Pe, who is an international student from Manila, Philippines, and the coronavirus is always in the back of her mind as she adjusts to her new life.
“We don’t want to mess up our chance and be sent home,” the prospective science, technology, and society major said, adding that there’s “a lot more awareness” for students like her.
Pe fears that a positive test could be the equivalent of a ticket back home, she said. If Pe’s results were traced back to a large gathering or off-campus party, she could face serious repercussions, like being removed from campus or losing her visa.
Weekly COVID-19 tests and a campus agreement not to gather
In August, Stanford University largely reversed plans to bring students to campus. But graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and some undergraduate students â€” like international students â€” can still live on-site.
These students are required to test weekly for the virus, and at the beginning of the semester, the 600 undergrads living on campus signed a “campus compact,” similar to a code of conduct. It barred partying and gathering in groups, and students who signed also agreed to get tested weekly, wear a face mask, and participate in social distancing.
Consequences for violating the compact range from “issuing a warning, requiring additional training or education, restricting access to Stanford facilities or removal from campus, including housing.”
Since mid-October, the campus has received 139 reported violations of public health rules, though none have gone to the university’s review panel, according to The Stanford Daily. Still, roughly 1,5000 students signed a petition to change the graduate student campus compact, citing that the document was “vague and coercive.”
However, Pe was happy there was a contract. “I felt very reassured, if anything, that the university was putting out these types of measures to hold students accountable,” she said.
One week into the semester, Pe said all her friends were taking things seriously, though she said she saw some “questionably large-sized groups”
“It’s a mixed bag,” she said. “Stanford, like any university, does have quite a diverse set of people with different perspectives on that.”
Meanwhile, her group of friends shares the same views on social distancing: They’re all still doing it.
She attributes their consistent rule-following to the fact that they’re all international students. For this group, contracting the virus comes with a different set of worries, even outside of school-mandated consequences â€” many don’t have a home to easily access.
“Right now, the stakes are higher,” she said. “Because if I got sick back home in Manila, I’d have a home I could self-quarantine in and not much would change really. Here, if I get sick, I’m going to be transferred to another residence on the other side of campus.”
That looming fear of being placed in an isolation dorm, along with awareness of the campus compact’s consequences, cause Pe to painstakingly think through every decision. Wearing a mask has become a “reflex,” and simple things, like grabbing a coffee with a friend, take more planning.
Before arriving at Stanford’s campus, Pe and her family had a long discussion mapping out worst-case scenarios, she said. They were concerned that high case numbers could lead Standford to close its campus. (So far, a low number of cases, along with Stanford’s decision to keep its campus closed last spring, has stopped that.)
And even in that worst-case scenario, Pe acknowledged that she’s lucky â€” she has extended family on the west coast. Many of her international friends, however, don’t have that added comfort.
Pe also said she’s unsure what would happen to her visa if the campus were to close. In March, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that all new international students at US colleges would be required to take at least one in-person course. A closed campus would, in theory, mean no in-person classes.
Getting to college was a challenge, so Pe has no plans to mess it up
Pe said getting to the US for college was a roller coaster. She faced challenges like understanding the US college application process, envisioning a campus she had never stepped foot on, additional costs, and facing the reality that she’d be thousands of miles away from her parents.
But this year, Pe and other international students had even bigger challenges. Embassies were closed, which made visa appointments harder to get. Pe’s visa interviews were rescheduled three or four times, and for a period, she was unsure if she’d get her visa in time for the fall semester.
“It was a very, very anxious period of time,” she said.
Now that she’s here, the last thing she wants is to contract the virus. “Not to say that the American students don’t experience that as well, but I think as internationals, we’re really cognisant of the fact that we’ve had to come so far,” she said.
That awareness means her friend group is transparent about their actions. Conversations about testing and social distancing happen on a regular basis, and they all hold each other accountable for getting tested regularly, she said.
Although Pe hasn’t been invited to any large parties on or off campus, she said she wouldn’t hesitate to turn the invitation down. “A one or two-hour party isn’t worth all the possible consequences,” she said.
For now, she’s content with one-on-one interactions. She’ll pick up food from the dining hall and sit with friends in an adjacent field for picnics.
“I didn’t work my butt off all through high school, only to get sick and lose time here,” she said.
If you’re a teacher, student, or parent who wants to share their story on what it’s like to go back to school right now, get in touch at
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