Cover photo of a house in the South Student Neighborhood taken by Sean Newhouse
When the University of Dayton campus closed for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, one group from the campus community was hit particularly hard: international students.
When international students come to the U.S. to study, they are only allowed to work on campus under their student visas. So when on-campus jobs were mostly lost, no other source of income was possible.
Alekhya Dontham, a sophomore engineering management student, worked at Au Bon Pain before the campus shutdown. After the announcement of the campus closure, her work shifts were canceled, leaving her with no income to pay for rent. And due to her family’s financial situation, she was unable to receive extra support.
“I come from a very middle-class family,” Dontham said. “There is no way to put pressure on them to support me.”
After the loss of her job, Dontham reached out to her broker, the intermediary between the apartment’s tenants and the landlord, and explained the situation. She explained that without her on-campus job, she could not work elsewhere to help pay the rent.
Her landlord’s response suggested that she ask her co-signer to pay her rent (landlords often ask college students to include a co-signer on leases due to factors such as short credit history). In Dontham’s case, her co-signer was a family friend.
“He’s just a mere friend, I could never expect him to pay my rent for me,” she said.
Dontham was also left without the option of returning to her hometown of Hyderabad, India, since the country is on lockdown with no commercial international flights. She is currently residing with family friends in Virginia, as her roommate continues to live in the Dayton apartment.
“[International students] lost our jobs because of situations we could not predict. We are all supremely stressed out,” she said. “If landlords could make any agreements or considerations, we would be really, really thankful.”
Another international student in a similar situation is Arshi Ara Khan, a first-year graduate communications student. She is from Jaipur, a city in northern India. Khan worked in catering services before moving to a job as a desk assistant in a residence hall and as an intern in Campus Ministry. In the fall, she will be a residence fellow on campus.
Khan was also left unable to return to India after the announcement of the campus closure. The video announcement was shared with the UD community after international flights to India had been suspended.
After explaining the issue to her landlord, the response was that the landlord would be at high financial risk without the rent, so she just had to pay it.
Khan has been living in the apartment alone since her roommate moved out, but she talks to her family often on FaceTime.
“I just want to see them in person. I just wish I could give them a hug,” she said.
If Khan has to renew the lease next month, she will be forced to pay another year’s worth of rent, even though she already has arrangements to move on campus in the fall because of her new position.
Several organizations on campus have come together to offer some assistance for international students. The University of Dayton Crisis Fund has received hundreds of requests from students for a variety of needs, said Amy Anderson, executive director of the Center for International Programs. Most of these requests were for basic living needs, such as groceries.
To donate to the Crisis Fund, click here.
To respond to some of these requests, the Center for International Programs (CIP), Student Development, Financial and Administrative Services and others have developed an emergency food plan. Through the food plan, students can receive a weekly supply of groceries through Dining Services. Before the emergency food plan was put in place, emergency grocery cards were distributed to students and transportation was offered to the airport and grocery store.
Another effort from the university is a virtual friendship family program that connects faculty, staff, alumni and local residents with an international student through structured online engagements, Anderson said. UD students and their families who would like to participate in this program can contact International Student & Scholar Services at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to campus organizations, fellow students have tried to lend a helping hand. After hearing about the issue from friends, one American student decided they wanted to try and help by starting a petition to raise awareness.
Hamza Hameed (an alias used to avoid targeting for starting the petition) first heard about the problem after visiting the Muslim Student Association’s prayer room at the Rike Center on campus. This was when the university had just canceled in-person classes.
“There were students that finished prayer and they were talking about how they are worried about losing their income from campus jobs,” Hameed said. “They looked really anxious at the thought of not being able to make rent.”
Hameed promoted the petition by sharing it with groups such as the Asian American Association, Muslim Student Association and Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center. Huthayfa Usman, president of the Muslim Student Association, also shared the post among international alumni, generating a spike in signatures.
Multiple students have taken the petition to their landlords, and Hameed has personally sent the petition to landlords and the city of Dayton. As of yet, Hameed has not received any responses, but will keep the petition active for as long as students are in distress.
“We need to keep gaining momentum and show landlords who may not understand how serious of a situation this is,” Hameed said. “No one should have to pick between food and rent. That’s just common humanity.”
Dontham has shared the petition with her family and friends back home and hopes that an agreement can be made.
“We are stuck here, we can’t go home,” she said. “It’s time that we come together as a community to help each other.”