I remember very clearly my last few days out at St. John’s this past spring before Covid-19 sent us all home. Spring Break had just finished, and midterms and papers loomed large on the schedule. The clubs I’m involved with were planning our end-of-year celebrations, and enjoying our beautiful campus was starting to become more possible with the weather beginning to warm up. But the danger signs of the approaching pandemic became ever clearer on the horizon. Dominoes started to fall, as one university after another looked at the data and made the decision to close and reduce the spread of the disease. CSB/SJU followed suit, and we ended up being sent home not even a week after we returned from break. Now that I am back on campus, I am hopeful we will be able to resume in-person classes successfully. However, this isn’t a time to return to a feeling of “normal.” Our local area should note that across the country reopening schools in an irresponsible manner can cause even more problems than before, and be vigilant to keep those issues from happening.
Going back home and completing college classes online for the first time, I was unsure what exactly the future might bring. How long would this last? Would we be able to return to campus before May and finish off the school year in person? What would happen for the seniors preparing to have their ceremonies and receive their diplomas? All of these questions were answered in disappointing ways. The rest of the spring semester ended up being entirely online. Senior graduation ceremonies were canceled, and the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage our country, killing more than a thousand Americans per day. I never imagined back in March that this crisis might get this bad.
As my move-in day for Fall 2020 approached, I was both excited and concerned. I was excited to be back on campus, see friends and have classes in a physical room rather than through Zoom. I was concerned because of the trend of new Covid-19 cases staying consistent or even increasing in our country. This is despite the valiant efforts of healthcare workers and others doing their part to keep themselves and loved ones from being infected. Now that I’m here, I see the strong steps taken by the school administration, faculty and students to do their part to make sure this semester stays in person and not online.
We have seen exactly what can go wrong, as evidenced by multiple universities attempting to go back to in-person classes. Notre Dame suspended in-person classes after an outbreak of cases. The University of North Carolina had to take similar measures. Large groups of students congregating without masks can quickly spread Covid-19, promptly driving up case numbers and putting in-person fall semesters in jeopardy. Far from being theoretical, not taking safety measures for Covid has real consequences. And if students are then sent home, it could create further outbreaks when they’re back with relatives.
Colleges are the test run for how well schools can operate safely while under Covid restrictions, as K-12 schools have not yet opened in most of our state. In the next few weeks, we will see whether a global pandemic and college life can coexist without mass infections. If they can, that is a good sign we might be able to turn a page in the fight against Covid-19. If cases shoot up and preventive measures don’t have the desired effect, that should make us take a closer look before opening up schools further.
As much as I want to be able to go to class and have a “normal” college experience again, that experience isn’t worth jeopardizing the safety of everyone in our schools, especially those students and staff who may be more vulnerable. And if colleges cannot open successfully, I can’t imagine how we can make an argument for sending the youngest members of our communities in K-12 back to school. Reopening schools in person should not take priority over protecting people.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.