As its first-ever hybrid learning semester comes close to an end, Boston University has managed to keep students on campus this Fall without a shutdown. The approaching holiday reminds us this experiment isn’t over yet, but regardless, it is somewhat of a surprise we even made it this far.
We must applaud the University’s COVID-19 testing capacity. Without its efficient testing sites and rigorous safety protocols on campus, we would not have been able to curb the spread of the virus as much as we’ve managed to.
Ideally, the University would make the safest choice for next semester and simply pivot to all-remote learning while keeping housing open for those who need it. But considering its clear intent to continue with Learn from Anywhere, it can certainly at least move toward a safer, happier campus by learning from what worked — and what didn’t — this Fall.
To begin, the University must commit to enforcing the rules it puts in place. This semester, disciplinary measures for breaking the rules didn’t roll out as immediately as they should have.
Cases have continued to rise throughout the Fall semester, and students must now follow strict guidelines surrounding green compliance badges. We have to display them before entering dining halls and certain dormitories, and students have even had to wait for a charger or use an iPad when their phone died before they could return to their residence.
As inconvenient as this may be for students, it’s part of being as careful as BU can be. But we must not overlook other regulatory issues that may allow the virus to breed. It is near-impossible to catch every large social gathering at night or off campus, despite their easy contribution to BU’s internal spread of COVID-19.
Along with these late-night escapades comes a need for COVID-19 services after business hours — pandemic-related resources must be accessible at all times. The Healthway Line, which allows students, faculty and staff to call for assistance with COVID-19 issues, closes at 8 p.m. However, the virus doesn’t stop spreading at nightfall.
BU should seriously consider allowing off-campus students and faculty to get tested more often. Anyone who is affiliated with the University should have access to consistent testing, especially with so many open time slots available for appointments. A successful school should take care of its own community.
The University must also invest more time in finding a solution to help freshmen experience a better transition into college. The endeavor to keep campus open is futile if this no longer resembles the campus students came for in the first place. On-campus students’ mental health often relies on the sense of community many of us are used to at BU.
Students feel disconnected from one another, and are missing out on the full benefits of student organizations on campus. Next semester’s virtual Splash should be better advertised and organized to ensure an easier experience for the student body.
The University has tried to make more of a connection with students, especially through the F— It Won’t Cut It campaign, but this public relations move can’t bear the full burden of successfully persuading those who actually need to change their habits to align with COVID-19 regulations.
Students who have school spirit and a sense of personal responsibility to curb the spread of COVID-19 are the ones more likely to buy into FIWCI’s marketing tactics. Otherwise, the campaign can be largely ignored by students who simply don’t care.
The money spent on this campaign could go toward infrastructure that allows for more socially distanced hangouts. Instead of spending funds on wrapping BU’s shuttle buses with the FIWCI logo or making more T-shirts, the University could invest in fire pits, plexiglass or canopy tents so students could congregate outside to socialize in a safer manner when the weather permits.
It is dangerous for students’ hangout locations to be restricted to apartment rooms and other cramped, poorly ventilated locations.
The culture of responsibility among students is clearly waning, and pandemic fatigue is causing people to neglect their dedication to keeping campus safe.
So the safest decision, despite all the short-term loss, is still for BU to refrain from fully reopening in the Spring. Housing should be available for students who are in need of a safe, secure place to stay. Besides those students, the number of students who return to campus should be extremely limited.
Because of the inevitable spike in new COVID-19 cases to come after the holidays, the initial positivity rate in students coming back to campus will most likely be higher than what we saw this Fall.
Everyone, scattered across the country and world, would be revitalizing the spread of the virus by traveling all over the place. Additionally, returning to school during the winter means students seeking to socialize in person will much more often find themselves doing so indoors.
And if we are forced to shut down and leave after the semester begins, we will spread COVID-19 back to our homes around the country — making a Spring reopening simply too risky to be worth it.
With viable vaccines now likely on the way, the end of this pandemic appears to be in sight for the first time.
If we can take the Spring semester to be responsible and intentional with our COVID-19 measures, then we will be able to fully enjoy the summer and fall.
In-person classes should be eradicated — hybrid learning is more stressful and dangerous than it’s worth for students and professors alike — and nonessential establishments on campus should be closed, such as classrooms and other gathering areas.
The University must also strictly enforce the 14-day quarantine period for incoming out-of-state students. When students traveled back to campus in August, administrators had clearly overestimated their will to self-isolate before receiving their required three negative test results — many were walking around campus, and the city, without consequence as soon as they moved in.
We can no longer rely on the false sense of security we get from frequent testing. We were extremely lucky to have made it through the Fall so far without a major outbreak on campus, but we are pushing our luck to think we can do the same this Spring without fine-tuning our safety measures.