The last day of class could be any day now…

What the Sewanee community can learn from coronavirus outbreaks on other college campuses around the country:

By Bella Francois
Executive Staff

We could be sent home at any point. This is the truth of going to college amid a pandemic. It isn’t ideal, but it’s already become a reality for students at universities across the country, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Other schools, such as Notre Dame, went online for a short time to slow down the surge of new cases. At Sewanee, we have been fortunate to have a low number of cases so far, but the outbreaks at other universities should serve as a reminder to us that our time here could be cut short at any moment. 

“Despite Notre Dame’s massive campaign for confronting the coronavirus, called HERE, and the majority of students strictly adhering to these guidelines, we still experienced an alarmingly large surge following the first few weeks on campus.” Ava Bidner, a freshman at Notre Dame, told The Purple.  “This led the administration, particularly Father Jenkins [the president of University of Notre Dame], to quickly form a plan of action to attempt to flatten the quickly rising curve.”

After the outbreak, most students assumed that they would go home and begin taking their classes online, as many of their friends at other universities were already doing. However, the university decided instead to only suspend in-person instruction for undergrads for two weeks, in addition to closing many parts of campus and putting in place more guidelines to prevent the spread.

“I think most of us really did believe we were going to be sent home, so we were super relieved to be given a kind of ‘second chance’ to return to in-person classes after just two short weeks.” said Bidner. “Also, I know many college students have almost all of their classes online for the whole semester, so I don’t think I can complain too much since we’re returning to in-person classes on Wednesday, Sep. 2,” 

However, for Bidner, the most challenging part of this situation was not the Zoom classes or the countless hours spent in her non-air-conditioned dorm. Instead, it was the lack of foresight shown by her peers, who attended off-campus parties, which caused an increase in cases.  

“The most frustrating aspect of moving online was that the surge of cases really did not have much to do with in-person classes at all.” she continued. “The increase in cases was traced back to several off-campus parties during the first weekends on campus, and the increase had almost nothing to do with classes, where everyone was always wearing masks and following all precautions,” 

While she is eager to return to in-person classes, Bidner is thankful for how seriously Notre Dame took the outbreak and hopes that this situation serves as a wake-up call to other students. 

“I definitely think the threat of being sent home made students rethink their actions and decide to hold off on partying for a while to save our semester,” she concluded. 

Not all universities were as fortunate as Notre Dame. Some, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, were forced to send their undergraduate students home from campus due to outbreaks of coronavirus cases.

“As much as we believe we have worked diligently to help create a healthy and safe campus living and learning environment, we believe the current data [a COVID-19 positivity rate rise from 2.8% to 13.6%] presents an untenable situation,” wrote Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert A. Blouin in a letter to the UNC Chapel Hill community. 

This outbreak of cases was also linked to several off-campus parties, similar to the situation at Notre Dame, where most students were adhering to the guidelines, but a select few were not. 

While this was a difficult decision for the administration, UNC-Chapel Hill students were aware that they could be sent home from the beginning, and most were supportive of the decision to suspend in-person learning.   

“Yes, I do think it was the right decision for UNC-Chapel Hill. I think it was the right decision for the safety of the students, staff, and faculty,” Olivia Armfield, a freshman at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill told The Purple. “Also, we were sent the Fall 2020 Carolina Roadmap [which included the possibility of being sent home due to an outbreak] multiple times during the summer, and we knew the plan.”  

UNC-Chapel Hill received a lot of backlash due to the outbreak on their campus, with many people pointing to the university as an example of what is to come for other schools. When  asked by NPR if there was a lesson to be learned, the chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, Mimi Chapman, responded with humble, yet profound words.  

“I hope that our experience will be a real service to the country and to other institutions like ours, in how they think about these things, how their governing bodies think about these things, and indeed, how perhaps the federal government needs to think about these things,” said Chapman. 

So to the Sewanee community: be diligent, wear your masks, social distance, do not party irresponsibly, and savor the time we have here. It is not guaranteed that we will stay on the Mountain, but if we take the experiences of other universities to heart, then we have a much greater chance of spending the rest of the semester on the Domain.