Op-Ed: A Response to, “Why F&M’s Incident Reporting Form Will Cause More Harm Than Good”

By Emily Grossbauer || Contributing Writer

Photo courtesy of LancasterOnline.

This past week, an article titled “Why F&M’s Incident Reporting Form Will Cause More Harm Than Good” was published in The College Reporter, and I knew I had to read it. However, I did not know that reading it would fill me with such rage that it would move my STEM major self to write an article in response, yet here we are. 

When the college announced the launch of the Incident Reporting Form, I had the exact opposite reaction that the author of this article did. I am a daughter of a professor at a college very similar to F&M in all aspects (small, liberal arts college in PA). My mother has been on the contact tracing team and COVID-19 task force for the college she works at since the pandemic started to take hold back in March. Throughout this past summer, she spent her days on Zoom, working with the team to try and figure out every which way to bring students back to campus safely and healthily. These hours spent on Zoom were hours that she did not have to give but chose to put in anyway because of her dedication to the school and her students. She is a mother of four children, one of which suffers from extreme mental and physical disabilities. My brother lives in a group home, and it has been on lockdown since March of 2020, meaning that we have been unable to see him since then. My mom is also going for her Ph.D., leaving her even fewer hours to herself, making the work/school/life balance even more difficult, yet she still manages to find the time to attend every one of the COVID-19 task force meetings. (Mom, if you are reading this, I sincerely don’t know how you do it.) 

All of this is to say, please remember that there are people within the faculty, staff, and administration making sacrifices and working hard to make this school year work for us. I have seen the other side of the story, and believe me when I say that the school is bending over backward to make this year feel as normal as possible. 

Over the summer, I sat in on one of my mom’s COVID-19 task force meetings. In that meeting, I suggested that the college create an anonymous reporting form where students could report other students for not following and adhering to the college pledge. I thought this was a great way for the college to become aware of when students are breaking the pledge, as the administration may not be aware of all such instances. That being said, the goal of the form was NOT to completely replace the policing done by the college. It is simply just another way the college can collect information. I believe that the students have more insight as to when other students are not adhering to the college policies than public safety or the administration does, as we are surrounded by each other 24/7. It is the students who are the primary witnesses to other students pouring into one dorm or apartment with no masks, not the administration or public safety. 

That being said, I disagree with the reporting form’s suggestions of photo taking and video recordings—that seems like an invasion of privacy. The form also opens the door for misuse in cases where deescalating smaller situations one-on-one or by having an HA get involved would suffice. It would be best if the students could solve these issues on their own if possible. 

However, if I am walking down West James Street and I see 25 unmasked people file into a house, I am going to use the form to report it. I still stand by my belief that this form is and will continue to be helpful for not only the college my mom teaches at, but also for F&M. 

The author of the article writes: “The school’s continuous attempts to distance itself from any type of responsibility for anything that occurs on campus in regards to COVID-19 has reached a new low in my eyes.” While I do not necessarily disagree that the college could “do better” at taking responsibility and communicating information regarding COVID-19, I believe that in these “unprecedented times”(a term in which we have now normalized as a society but need to remember why) the college is doing as much as they can. Sure, the PORT emails could be more frequent and easier to read, and the COVID-19 dashboard could use a revamp (if you ask me, after studying data visualization for an entire summer, the dashboard needs an entire remake). 

Despite those things, I do not think that the college is attempting to completely “distance itself from any type of responsibility for anything that occurs on campus,” as the author writes. In my opinion, I don’t necessarily think that the school is the one to blame if we have COVID-19 outbreaks. The students are the ones to blame for disregarding protocols, and the college is responsible for how it responds to the situation. The college sent out a form at the end of last semester asking for our opinions on how they handled the pandemic, and I believe they responded to our concerns. They upped testing to twice a week, which is the one major thing that an institution like ours can do to prevent outbreaks: early recognition of the virus. 

The author continues, claiming “that responsibility was now fully pushed onto the students, and in the crudest form possible, destroying the years of connections and friendships made along the way.” Frankly, if you are feeling pressured to report your closest friends for COVID-19 violations, maybe you should not be friends with them, as they clearly lack empathy for the situation at hand. By failing to adhere to the college’s COVID-19 guidelines, your friends are showing a complete disregard for people other than themselves. The actions you take affect other people more now than ever before. 

In my personal life, throughout the pandemic, I have been unable to: visit my brother for an entire year, properly mourn the loss of not one, but two grandparents with an actual funeral and family and friends around to make me feel better or enter my house without being paranoid that I will spread the virus to my now last living grandparent, my grandmother who is 93 years old. The author writes of her experiences as a remote status student this past semester, saying that the reason she returned to campus this semester was to be surrounded by her friends and those at F&M who made it feel like a “second home.” In reference to the reporting form, the author laments, “Now those people are being taken away from me, as we are being put against each other, told to watch those around us, rather than look out for them.” 

Stop the overreaction. Those people are not being taken away from you like my grandparents were violently ripped away from me, when my family and I were unable to even say goodbye or visit the hospital, or like the over 500,000 people whose lives were lost due to the pandemic. I argue you are doing just that—looking out for them—when reporting instances of policy violation when you see it, as this benefits our entire community.

My response to you is: if you are so worried that reporting your disrespectful, irresponsible, and inconsiderate friends who are violating the very policies that have abled you and all students to continue to study on campus this semester will “take your friends away from you,” then don’t use the form. 

But remember: by not reporting them, you put the rest of the students at a greater risk to be sent home due to an outbreak and the campus not being able to operate in person anymore. It is at that point, that not only your friends but my friends too, in my last semester of college, will be “taken away from me.”

Senior Emily Grossbauer is a contributing writer. Her email is egrossba@fandm.edu.

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