Colleges reopening was not the safest decision

Magali Aguilar, Staff Writer

Although it feels like a lifetime ago, I still remember reading the email from President Judy Olian that said students would not return to campus until March 22.

Graphic by Connor Lawless

It was spring break 2020. People were either at home or on vacation, and while COVID-19 was all over the news, no one knew how serious it would become. In the United States, wearing a mask wasn’t mandatory in many states when students left Quinnipiac University for spring break, but that would soon change.

I’m from New York and although it was one of the states that was hit the hardest, COVID-19 has heavily impacted the whole country. Over 6.5 million people in the U.S. have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 194,000 people have died as of Sept. 15, according to a New York Times database.

The rate of infections has steadily decreased over the past few weeks, but the threat of a second wave brings up a very important question: should we return to normalcy?

Although life will not be the same as it was before the pandemic, colleges around the country, including Quinnipiac, are an example of how things are starting to return to normal. Some schools returned to in-person classes a few weeks ago, however, Quinnipiac held off until Labor Day, when in-person classes were held for the first time since March. As someone who was affected by COVID-19, I have to disagree with Quinnipiac’s decision to reopen.

Quinnipiac gave students the option to complete the fall 2020 semester virtually, but after experiencing virtual learning for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, a majority of students decided to return because of the challenges and difficulties that come along with it. Although virtual learning can be difficult, it’s the school’s responsibility to do what is right and prioritize everyone’s safety.

While it is understandable that students want to return to campus for in-person learning, it’s not in people’s best interests to do so. There are students coming from around the country, and COVID-19 infection rates are higher in some states than in others. Additionally, Quinnipiac can’t be sure of all students’ whereabouts or what they were doing before they returned to campus.

Northeastern University dismissed 11 students without tuition reimbursement after disobeying the school’s COVID-19 guidelines. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Although testing all students before and after their arrival is a great safety measure, it doesn’t guarantee with 100% certainty that all students will remain COVID-19-free. The fact that Quinnipiac has not required testing for its faculty and staff leads me to question whether it actually tested all of its students or not. Even if it has tested all students, there is no way of controlling what those students will do once they’re on their own.

NBC has reported that at the University of Alabama, over 600 students have been punished for breaking the school’s COVID-19 guidelines. Several of those students have been suspended, but suspending a student is not going to undo what the student has already done. COVID-19 can be asymptomatic in some people, so students could have been infected without knowing it and exposed a friend or peer to the virus.

At Northeastern University, 11 students were dismissed for gathering at the Westin Hotel, a hotel near the school’s campus that is temporarily being used to house students. The students will not be allowed to complete the semester virtually and they will not be refunded the $36,500 they already paid toward tuition. According to the Boston Globe, the students will be able to contest their dismissal, but this only serves as one example of what could happen as a result of students returning to campus.

Students are not the only ones at fault here, though. Colleges around the country needed to reopen after losing thousands of dollars when students moved back home early in March. As the virus continues to spread, high school seniors might have decided to take a gap year or defer their admission to schools, resulting in lower enrollment rates.

Typically, colleges increase their tuition a little bit each year, but due to the financial hardship a lot of families are facing, it wasn’t right to increase tuition rates. Some people have advocated for the lowering of tuition, especially for students who are completing the fall semester virtually because in-person and virtual learning provide different experiences.

Virtual learning was a new experience for many students, and it has proven to be difficult for some. It’s often hard to find motivation to participate in class from your own home and some institutions don’t have the proper training or technology for their instructors to teach class via an online platform like Zoom.

Although having a hybrid learning model for students who are on campus could reduce the number of people who come in contact with one another each day, this leaves professors and students at a disadvantage. Students’ alternating schedules can be confusing while professors can be left with only a handful of students in person or even none at all. Simultaneously, Zoom makes it difficult to do group work and some students may not even have access to the necessary technology.

Online learning is not ideal for students and can be very difficult for many, but safety comes first when the country is facing a pandemic. It’s better to be safe and cautious now, so that we can return to normalcy sooner without the fear that there will be another outbreak.