Sept 25, 2020 | By Ian Chalmers | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
Across the country, countless college campuses have closed in response to rising cases of COVID-19. Colorado College, specifically, decided to reduce the density of people operating on campus. People have tried to play the blame game to determine who is at fault: the students who are breaking strict social distancing guidelines or colleges for even attempting to reopen campuses, despite the fact the United States had far fewer cases when colleges originally closed in March.
We have seen colleges and the media blame young people, specifically those of college-age, for inducing the second wave of COVID-19. This attribution seems natural: young people are more likely to go out and engage in social events. The BBC even reported that “a third of all cases in England last week were people aged between 20 and 29.” Across the pond, even British universities have decided to close campuses for the semester. On Sept. 22, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, stated, “we should assume that the restrictions I have announced will stay in place for six months.” It would seem that it is the students’ fault for the sky-rocketing cases of COVID-19, but their side of the argument is often ignored.
Over the summer, college students were lamenting that many colleges were maintaining tuition costs, while some colleges were even raising them, despite most classes being online. Chapman University in Southern California decided to move to remote learning for the fall, promising that students would still get a “robust Chapman experience.”
“What about a robust refund?” retorted Christopher Moore, a spring graduate, on Facebook. A parent chimed in, “We are paying a lot of money for tuition, and our students are not getting what we paid for.”
Students knew that some of their peers would not follow the social distancing guidelines, which is why they advocated for remote learning. The Trump administration made things complicated, however, when they decided to suspend student visas for international students who were not taking a certain number of credit hours in person. Some colleges, including CC, have allowed international students to remain on campus. Additionally, CC and other colleges have allowed students with fragile housing situations to stay on campus. It could then be argued that students could have remained on campus with courses that, for the most part, would be online.
In July, Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Harvard Medical School, stated, “Any public health plan that requires radical changes in behavior and perfect compliance is doomed to fail, and that’s exactly what’s happening.” While colleges have taken punitive measures to enforce social distancing protocols, students have found ways around these regulations. In Princess Leia’s words, “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” College students are still people, and people need to socialize. While we have adapted to Zoom get-togethers and FaceTiming with friends, there is a desire to go out with friends and return to the life that we had seven months ago.
The Guardian has reported that “Young people are at higher risk of suffering from mental health problems because of lockdown.” Lee Hudson, Chief Officer of Mental Health Services at Great Ormond Street Hospital, said, “I’m particularly concerned about the number of young people in our study who have reported overeating as a way of coping with their low moods during lockdown.” With disruptions to mental health facilities, some young people are facing a trade-off between their physical health and their mental health. In the earlier days of the pandemic, reporting suggested young people would face less severe effects of COVID-19. For some, social interaction seemed like a gamble they were willing to take.
You can shift the blame to whomever you would prefer, but there is a lack of understanding from the media and colleges about the motivation behind students’ behavior during quarantine. We grew up during the worst recession since the Great Depression, and now we are dealing with a pandemic on a scale that the world has not seen since 1918. College students carry a burden beyond the normal stresses of life and class. A more empathetic approach to students and their needs would have helped mitigate the fiasco of American universities reopening.