To say that this year has been a difficult one for academic institutions would be a major understatement. Covid-19 has trampled through established norms and many colleges are left trying to navigate semesters that are largely online. Some universities have taken the route of having in-person classes with precautions in place. Appalachian State University is one such university. ASU’s administration may wax poetic about their health standards on campus, but the reality of campus safety leaves much to be desired.
Prior to physically returning to campus each day, students must conduct a safety survey through their ASU account. This daily survey ignores the fact that Covid-19 is typically an asymptomatic virus, and those who do have symptoms generally do not experience them until after having been contagious for one to two weeks.
Once a student clicks the button confirming that they are presenting no Covid-19 symptoms, they are “cleared” to enter campus for the full day.
There also seem to be no consequences for not filling out the form, which I learned when I forgot before one of my classes.
Even putting aside these performative safety surveys, however, the material situation on campus is also unsafe.
There are sanitization tools all over campus, but a brief walk through any campus building will show you that few students actually make use of them. My classes are in one of the oldest buildings on campus, which is decidedly not up to par amidst Covid-19 concerns.
It has few windows to permit air flow, and many of its hallways are too tight to allow for any semblance of social distancing. Many classrooms in the basement do not even have windows, leaving the stagnant air to stir in these plague quarters for hours on end.
There may only be two open seats per table, but other students still have been seated only a foot or two behind me, rendering those distancing measures meaningless.
These lackluster precautions are, of course, exacerbated by the many students who do not social distance or regularly sanitize themselves.
It would be easy to blame them for this failure, but that lets the university off too easily. This isn’t a failure of the students, but of the institution.
We’ve all watched as the UNC System continued their incessant “victim blaming” of students, trying to blame students for coming to their open schools, rather than the UNC System themselves for opening the schools to begin with, and in doing so placing their profits over our lives.
We should never have been made to return to campus. These students ignoring the university’s barebones health standards should not have been placed in the position to do so in the first place. This current situation is a complete failure of leadership at the university level, but also all the way to the very top of the UNC System.
There is no way to reliably enforce these Covid-19 regulations on all the students, and even if every regulation were perfectly enforced to the letter, the risk is still high. The only way to ensure the safety of the students, of myself and of the community that I have called home for 22 years, is to immediately switch to fully online classes and send all students home, lest the current situation in our local hospitals grow even worse.
Until Chancellor Sheri Everts makes the decision to send students home and move all classes online, every person in this county is at risk of sickness and even death, because this administration refused to look at the science and take the advice of professionals.