College During A Pandemic: An Inside Look At UM’s Response

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many have questioned whether colleges should be welcoming students back to campus this fall. There does not seem to be a one-size-fits-all solution. With UNC and Notre Dame already switching to fully remote learning after just one week in person, is it possible that UM, located in a new COVID-19 epicenter, will to avoid following their footsteps? As a current freshman at the university, I want to explore what the administration is doing right and wrong in response to this infectious disease.  

UM has a plan, but how much does it help? First, let’s examine the pros. The university is keeping students who hold large gatherings in check. According to Housing and Residential Life at UM, “Each resident is permitted to host one guest in their room/apartment at a time.” Violating this guest policy could result in “disciplinary action” and, in some cases, offenders are “subject to a housing contract review even on the first offense.” Students who violate the guest policy are required to attend Zoom meetings with student deans and, in some extreme cases, have been sent home for the semester. Any social distancing infractions also demand that the students involved receive COVID-19 tests. Isolation centers exist on campus for students who do test positive. A handful of kids in Hecht caught violating the policy, even just slightly, are now being put on academic probation and even suspension. The university is being strict in letting students know that large gatherings will not fly, which is good. However, the punishment must fit the crime. Students on probation lose financial aid. Punishing them for gatherings of a little over four people seems like overkill.

The classroom situation at UM is another success. In-person classes are engaging and socially distanced. One student even said, “They are the safest part of my day.” Students who aren’t on campus this fall still have plenty of options. Professors are required to record their lectures and post them online so international students from different time zones can stay on track. Zoom office hours are being held so students can maintain communication with their professors. Another productive measure is the 10 p.m. dorm curfew, which restrains resident students from partying all night in clubs and bars — especially those in downtown Miami, a hotspot for the virus. The university is making numerous correct advances, and many are feeling optimistic about the school’s handling of the virus. As a student said, “UM’s goal is to ensure the safety and welfare of everyone on campus, and while there will always be something to improve on, we are well on our way to success.”

In terms of cons, the most glaring error must be reopening the dining hall. While the tables are spread apart, it still doesn’t seem safe. And despite the maximum occupancy limit in place, the hall gets mighty crowded during dinnertime. Allowing an abundance of students to eat indoors mask-free is concerning. It would be wiser if the university switched to takeout only. More infrastructure should be established to permit students to eat together outdoors.

Now to the unnecessary. Daily symptom checkers — a survey students must fill out indicating they don’t feel sick in order to be in public on campus — just seem like a complete waste of time. Students must show the green light from their symptom checker to staff as they enter the gym, dining halls and other places on campus. How do you know if the student is telling the truth? Hopefully, students would not come out of their dorms if they felt under the weather, but you never know. A survey certainly isn’t going to stop them from doing what they want.

Ultimately though, UM’s fate is determined by its students. The administration can’t stop all large gatherings. In a newsletter sent earlier this week, four cases have been confirmed in Hecht-McDonald with the seventh and eighth floors quarantined for a short time. College kids have been cooped up in quarantine since March. They’re socially starved, so it doesn’t baffle me that social distancing guidelines aren’t being followed. Although President Frenk has implemented many mindful policies, I’m skeptical that it will be enough to prevent us from severe outbreak.

words_chris damond illustration_rachel rader

This content was originally published here.

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