Why F&M Shouldn’t Go Back to In-Person Education This Fall, Op-Ed

By Samantha Milowitz ||Staff Writer

Photo Courtesy of Lancasteronline.com

I want to start this off by saying that I love college. When I was looking at colleges, Franklin & Marshall stuck out most to me because of its small environment, beautiful campus, and outstanding academic reputation. When I was applying to colleges, I was looking for a second home: a place I could be my true, authentic self. I found it. F&M has truly become my happy place, where I have found people I love and who love me. I ache to go back. I look through my phone at pictures from freshman, sophomore, and junior years and feel like bursting into tears. My best friends are there. My favorite spot to read is there. I wish I could rewind time just to sit on Hartman green in a blue chair and soak in the Lancaster air one last time. 

However, I cannot rewind time. 

The Coronavirus Pandemic has caused an unimaginable and unprecedented loss in our country and many other countries around the world; our own students and professors have lost loved ones due to the pandemic. Many of us live in fear every day that we will be next and that one of our own loved ones will be lost as well. No one is safe in the Coronavirus Pandemic: that is clear. Now that the fall semester is approaching, colleges and universities around the country including our own are planning to reopen. As I have watched colleges announce their intention to reopen, it has become more and more clear to me that reopening anything at this point is not the way to rid our country of this disease. Here, I have assembled my main reasons for why colleges and universities should not reopen in the fall: 

  • Indoor areas have been proven to be more dangerous than outdoor areas.

Because the Coronavirus is passed through droplets from person to person, proper ventilation is a huge contributing factor to catching this disease. According to the website Medical Press, medical researchers and scientists have found that these droplets “can float in the air in a room for many minutes, especially when the room is poorly ventilated.” Indoor spaces do not provide adequate ventilation to keep people safe from this disease. Students will be sitting in indoor classrooms for prolonged periods of time, creating a higher risk of transmission. Activities such as eating, studying, and living in dormitories also take place inside, which means that most of the time at college, students will be in places of poor ventilation where they are more likely to pass on the disease. Especially in dormitories, big groups of people will be sharing small spaces like bathrooms and common areas where there is a higher risk of infection. 

  • College-aged students exhibit more risky behavior than any other age group.

In an article from the New York Times, referenced by the College Reporter in a previous article entitled “Expecting Students to Play It Safe if Colleges Reopen Is a Fantasy,” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/opinion/coronavirus-college-safe.html) Professor Steinberg speaks to the untrustworthy nature of college-aged persons. This speaks to the “YOLO” mentality that many young people have: they are invincible and entitled to live life on the edge. Members of this age group are also less likely to die or have serious effects from the Coronavirus and therefore are carriers of the disease to people in higher-risk categories. Bringing students back to campus to be around other students will naturally lead to risky behaviors such as parties, large gatherings, and refusals to follow guidelines. Especially considering the length of time students have been apart from one another, it is natural to get excited at the prospect of seeing friends again. Being back at school will make most students feel as if the pandemic is over, giving them a false sense of security. 

  • Thus far, reopening has proven to have set us back several months in beating this virus: we will be contributing to the problem. 

In the southern and western parts of the country, many states are struggling in this fight due to the premature reopening of indoor spaces such as hair salons, indoor restaurants, bars, nail salons, casinos, malls, arcades, and more. 38 states are still increasing in cases and have yet to stabilize. Six states that reopened early, including California, Florida, and Texas, are reversing their reopenings and now have to start over. Thirteen states are pausing their reopening, setting them back as well. Reopening indoor spaces to the public before the Coronavirus is dissolved everywhere has led us to major setbacks in ridding us of this disease. By reopening colleges prematurely, we are contributing to the problem and not helping America recover. 

  • No one can possibly regulate the large population of college students and what they do outside of campus. 

Franklin & Marshall College is considered to be one of the smaller colleges with a total population of about 2,500. While other schools have greater populations, many close to 100,000, and are planning to reopen, it does not mean that F&M reopening with a smaller population is a good idea.  2,500 people is still a lot to keep track of when it comes to ensuring they are all following guidelines when they leave the classroom. We cannot possibly regulate who is washing their hands and who isn’t or who has interacted with people outside the campus. Since we cannot keep track of where everyone has been, it is impossible to know that we are surrounded by safe people, people we can trust. Additionally, the Coronavirus, in certain individuals, is asymptomatic, meaning students do not have to show signs to test positive. This means that even if we take temperatures before students enter the classroom or campus, it does not guarantee us every individual’s health.

  • Colleges and Universities bring together people from every single state and country: it matters less where the college is, and more who’s coming in. 

While Lancaster is in the green zone (for now), this fact has nothing to do with the safety of bringing students back to campus. Colleges and universities bring together hundreds of thousands of students from all over the map, and many are coming from places where the rates of infections are high. Students coming to Lancaster from various places are bound to spell disaster for the city itself. Bringing students back will set the city back months in recuperating. 

  • Constantly worrying about when school is going to be shut down will create unnecessarily high levels of stress and lead to poor performance in the classroom. 

The Pandemic has not only brought fear but also increased anxiety and stress, both of which are already common in many college-aged students. The strive for excellence in education and classes, combined with the anxiety due to the possibility of catching the virus, will mean that students’ work will suffer. Sitting in the classroom surrounded by people with unknown symptoms will take students’ minds off their studies. Sitting in a classroom full of students and professors with masks on sounds like a daunting and scary environment that would make it hard to learn.

  • Reopening colleges and universities in the fall will doom us for the spring.

While many schools are focused on the fall semester plans, they are not thinking of the consequences it will mean for the spring semester. While closing for the fall will mean a chance for a healthy spring semester, opening for the fall can only push us back and prevent us from opening in the spring. We should not be reopening first just to see if everything falls apart; we should be taking the time to close so that we can heal and come back when things are better. If we go back, we may ruin our chances of ever having a safe, fun semester this year. Not to mention that the spring semester will move towards nicer weather (ultraviolet lights) that creates a safer environment as it decreases the levels of the virus.

  • We will probably have to evacuate school at some point anyway.

In the recent letter to students and faculty regarding reopening, President Altman wrote that students on campus should pack lightly when returning to campus and be prepared for immediate evacuation from school. She also expressed that the situation could change within the next month, moving classes online for the fall. The likelihood of needing to leave school and have classes online is extremely high, and some would say, inevitable. So, why waste time experimenting with in-person education if it will move online anyway? 

  • The first wave is not even over yet; sadly, we are worse off now than we were during the initial closing of F&M in March. 

Many people are concerned about the “second wave” of the virus, but the first wave is not even over yet! More than half of the country is still rising exponentially in cases and in deaths, not yet having healed from the Coronavirus. Sadly, we are worse off at this point in time than when F&M ended its in-person education in March; nothing has improved. As of July 7, the total number of cases in America is around 2,900,000, with 130,810 deaths, and the numbers are climbing. We are not yet in a time of remission and therefore should not even be considering reopening anything until we are. The war has not been won yet. 

Whether you agree or disagree with returning to campus, I think we can all agree on one thing: none of us want to get sick. We don’t want to risk our health or the health of anyone around us. There is nothing that outweighs the cost of any human life. The only way we will beat this virus, at least until we find a cure or a vaccine, is with patience. Everyone is rushing to the finish line, excited for the virus to be over, but guess what? It’s not over. If we continue to be cautious, to quarantine ourselves, to wash our hands, to WEAR MASKS, and to stay out of indoor spaces, we will actually get rid of this virus. However, reopening colleges and universities is not going to help the cause we are all working towards. I hope students and faculty consider these reasons before dedicating themselves to in-person education. 

I don’t want to spend my last year of college in my room, but I will make that sacrifice to protect my family, friends, and essential workers who are helping to keep me safe. Sometimes we have to do what’s right instead of what we want.

Senior Samantha Milowitz is a Staff Writer. Her email is smilowit@fandm.edu.

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