College Made Them Feel Equal. The Virus Exposed How Unequal Their Lives Are.

By late January, as the coronavirus was moving beyond China, Ms. Canning saw a message from Ms. Lathion saying she planned to be a teaching assistant that coming semester. The two teammates discovered they had both been recruited by Ms. Isaacs to assist with her seminar on forced migration from Latin America.

They were joined in class by Ms. Chochaeva, who as a child bounced between the homes of her separated parents, several subway stops from Moscow’s Red Square. She had taken English classes until her family could no longer afford them, and then taught herself. Before Haverford, she had never visited the United States.

Like Ms. Lathion, Ms. Chochaeva imagined her prospects would dramatically change by attending college. She remembered lying on the floor and staring up at the ceiling when she found out she had been accepted to Haverford.

“I felt like some kind of uncertainty ended, and a new kind of uncertainty began,” she said.

Chace Pulley was one of the first in the class to realize the virus was having a big impact. Her father, an investor, had a trip planned to Japan, where he did business. Schools were closing. As Asian markets began to crash, Ms. Pulley’s parents assured her they had plenty of cash on hand, a decision they made after the Great Recession.

Ms. Chochaeva had flashes of 2008, too. She was 9 when her mother lost her job in Russia and was forced into a pension; Ms. Chochaeva’s older brother, who suffered from a learning disability, developed diabetes, which required costly treatment. She remembered how food had disappeared from shelves, and called her mother to make sure she was fine.

On March 4, Ms. Isaacs had her students stand at a chalkboard to create an enormous diagram of all the concepts they had studied in class. Students packed in and stretched over one another to draw connections like “fear and insecurity” and “familial connections.” It would be the last time the class would gather like that.

During spring break in mid-March, Ms. Lathion and Ms. Canning were headed to a lacrosse game in Virginia that was suddenly canceled out of safety concerns. They had already been told Haverford was delaying the start of classes because of the virus; now came a message to students not to return that semester at all.

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