To the colleges and universities that will reopen amidst COVID-19:
Updated: Feb 16, 2021
It is inevitable in the opening of schools that people will become ill—whether that be the student, the professor, the faculty, or someone that these people come into contact with. Understand that the message you are sending is this: Education, a sense of community, and/or keeping the institution open are absolutely worth risking lives over.
My biggest concern in returning to school is the enforcement of social distancing. With a campus full of people from varying backgrounds--and therefore differing views--it is unreasonable to expect that each person would respect social distancing guidelines. It would also be nearly impossible to ethically prohibit the congregating of college students.
We have to take into consideration residential life, dining services, classes and more. As a college student myself, I can also attest to how fundamental “under the radar” parties and kickbacks are to the college experience. However, this also seems like an efficient means to garner collective exposure.
Should institutions choose to reopen, the following tracks should be implemented:
a. The student lives on campus but participates in distance education. This accommodates the student whose home life is not a conducive learning environment but feels safer indoors and away from crowds. (This is especially ideal for a student who may live in an abusive household.)
a. The student lives on campus and prefers to physically attend classes. This student acknowledges the risks of in-person classes and prefers occasionally getting out of the house.
3. At Home/Online
a. This student feels safer at home and prefers distance education.
4. At Home/In Person
a. The student lives at home but prefers to physically attend class. This is a commuting student, who also acknowledges the risks of in-person classes and prefers occasionally getting out of the house.
There should be no penalty for a student choosing any of these tracks. It requires that all classes have an online option so that students who are unable or unwilling to come to class can continue furthering their education.
For students living on campus, single rooms should not only be encouraged, but also the default mode of on-campus living; however, there should also be an option allowing students who prefer to have a roommate. This would function no differently than living with a family member.
This dilemma is as gray as it gets. The goal should be to allow students to keep working towards their degrees in a way that prioritizes both physical and mental health. The implementation of these four tracks would accommodate the majority of students and allow students to choose what is most favorable to them. Again, I stress the weight of this ethical dilemma. Reopening schools is quite literally putting lives on the line.