Students around the nation prepare to return to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic and are met with empty promises of safety: social distancing in the classroom, a hybrid education system with in-person and online teaching, an overwhelming feeling that the return to campus will be just as lonely as the long trek home in early March. Yet despite the seeming decrease in the quality of education, many students nationwide received their financial aid packets and were faced with the shocking reality of a steep increase in cost. Why are institutions with billions of dollars in endowment funds forcing their students to drive themselves into even more overwhelming debt for a subpar on-campus experience?
I attend one of the top research institutions in the nation, yet I—a sophomore with only a fundamental education in the STEM fields—can see the blatant disregard for the health of students on behalf of the administration. From the move-in process to the sudden unannounced changes in room and board, a medical degree is not necessary to see that this upcoming semester will be a disaster, and a deadly one at that. The move-in process, set to begin the 17th of August (only a few days from now), has clear issues that the University refuses to acknowledge or discuss.
Students, as they arrive, must be tested (except for students living off-campus, who will not be tested at all). The University boasted to its students and their families that their state-of-the-art tests, available thanks to the excellence of our university’s medical center, are accurate and give rapid results. What they didn’t tell us, however, is that these results will not come back until after students have already moved in. For up to 24 hours, students will be settling into their dorms, going to dining halls and campus cafés, traveling to the campus bookstore to purchase textbooks, all without knowing whether or not they have COVID. Countless people could be infected in these 24 hours, and I predict this will be the case.
And what is the University doing to remedy this? They are trusting that students (college students, who have already been hosting COVID parties and spreading the virus, as seen in a college in my hometown) “do the right thing so as to be part of the solution.” But if that fails, the University will be contact tracing any individual whose test results come back positive.
That’s it? I thought, upon receiving an email response from our director of housing operations that detailed the aforementioned “safety procedures.” Since receiving this email, I have been unable to stop thinking about how many students are going to be infected—how many students are going to die—because of the University’s greed and lack of preparation and foresight. Contact tracing cannot protect students from COVID—the damage has already been done.
The housing assignments were also handled in an exceptionally poor manner. A few months back, a survey was sent by Residential Life to gauge whether or not students felt comfortable living with a roommate. I had been assigned to a double at this point and requested a move to a single, not wanting to live in close quarters with someone else and risk a higher chance of exposure to the virus, especially when many of my family members are immunocompromised. Upon filling out this survey, I finally felt pride in my university for doing something to ensure our safety. I, alongside many of my peers, assumed that the University would reassign housing to ensure the safety and mental wellbeing of its students—quite the contrary.
The pride I once felt dwindled as weeks passed since the survey had been sent, and yet there was no word as to where we had been reassigned. Again, only after I had emailed Residential Life myself did I learn that students who wanted to be reassigned were to fill out a room change request form (more information that the University kept from its students). In the end, I was never offered a single by Residential Life and had to fight for days to be moved to a single in an apartment, which I was told about by a friend. Meanwhile, I found out that Residential Life had provided singles for several individuals living in doubles identical to mine who had not even requested a change.
What if I had been working full-time this summer? I would never have had the time to call and email the school as often as I did in order to be safer than I would have been. What if I had never gone out of my way to send that first email, and further, what if I did not have reliable access to the internet? I would never have known that a separate form was required. I would be putting my health and safety on the line because of the University’s lack of honesty and transparency. I was fortunate enough to find a place where I feel safer, but thousands of others are not so lucky.
The University, granted, is taking some necessary precautions to keep students safe: dining halls are operating at 50% capacity, PPE is provided (supposedly), masks are required in public spaces, and social distancing will take effect in the classroom. But these precautions are overshadowed by the changes that deliberately endanger the livelihood of their students. All community kitchens are closed (which is a good thing) but all private kitchens were removed from apartments that only house up to six students. What good is limiting the capacity of dining halls if you force all on-campus students—thousands of students—to eat in the dining areas, of which there are only three? Yet again, we were not told this until I had sent an email and found out on my own, merely two weeks before classes began. This makes me wonder: what else is the University not telling us? What secrets are being kept?
And yet, despite the decline in the quality of our education, the clear disregard for students’ safety, and being stripped of basic necessities, tuition increased for this semester at a shocking rate. In addition to this, many schools are only on campus until Thanksgiving break. The semester is shorter, and yet the price is higher. I personally know of several students who will not be returning because the increase in price made it impossible for them to afford the semester, and several others taking the same route because they feel that campus, as the University has altered it, is still unsafe. Why must a University with an endowment fund of over $2 billion drive its students away—students who want to learn and genuinely love the university community?
My university is not alone in its egregious lack of preparation for the semester, and as students return to their respective campuses—many to be surprised by the same inconsiderate actions of their own universities—we can only fear the detrimental outcome as it happens before our very eyes. Already, COVID-19 in the United States is surging, with cases skyrocketing and the death toll increasing each passing day. Now, with millions of students from around the globe traveling to their campuses, the loss we are about to face will be devastating. Lives are being put at risk—young, healthy lives, the leaders, doctors, scientists, teachers of our future—for the price of a semester’s tuition.
This is the way of the modern University administration—they are sneaky, they are greedy, and they care nothing for the health and safety of their students. Time and time again, the University proves that we are expendable, mere numbers on a page. And this semester, we will be treated as such like never before.