The other night I listened intently as a college president suggested to his listeners that students could build meaningful connections via Zoom.
How many 18 to 21-year-olds do you know that have made new friends, solid networking connections, or deep bonds with professors over Zoom?
This is an unprecedented time. Colleges and universities want to open in some capacity. Many say they have a plan. But let’s be real. No matter what administrators suggest, they don’t have a safe plan that will satisfy the majority of students or replicate the college experience. They can’t.
Colleges have two basic choices, and neither one is particularly appealing.
If students take classes from home online, they miss the opportunity to work with each other and to build meaningful relationships with each other and with their professors. There is an immeasurable value to sitting next to a professor, a teaching assistant, or a peer, and working, side-by-side with him or her. All of this is essential to learning in college, as a college education takes place inside and outside of classrooms and encompasses all of “campus life.” This is not what students worked for years to achieve. Students will lose at least one more full semester of a meaningful, interactive college education.
Loving college off-campus and online puts many students who are food and housing insecure in jeopardy. Living on a college campus is a necessity rather than a luxury for these students, as their mental and physical health and well-being depend on it.
If colleges welcome students back to campus, students can’t move freely around campus, can’t participate in certain clubs, sports, or any social events, many classes will still be online, and cafeterias will be closed. Moreover, colleges open campuses with the caveat that there will be Coronavirus outbreaks on campus, people will get sick, and people will die. People will die.
And, I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I don’t think these on-campus plans are going to work. For many reasons.
Starting with the age group. Don’t you remember feeling invincible at that age? Let’s be real, this age group not known for their unwillingness to take risks, to isolate, to follow rules. If they choose to return to these high-risk environments, they are unlikely fearful of Coronavirus.
In fairness, this is their time. Their time to socialize, to party, to explore, to make connections. By bringing them back to campus, colleges are waving the chocolate chip cookies in front of their faces and saying, “You can look, but you cannot touch.” Putting hundreds, thousands, of 18 to 21-year-old together and expecting them to remain socially distant is quite ambitious. And, despite the colleges’ preventative measures and rules, they will continue to pursue their academic and non-academic passions. Leading to the inevitable outbreak of Coronavirus.
Let’s also consider logistics. College life typically revolves around groups of people living in close proximity to one another, eating with each other, using the same gym, going to the same library, using the same bathrooms, using the same laundry machines….
What about students travelling to campus. From all over the country. Possibly from all over the world. When they get out of their planes and trains, from high-risk states and countries, where do they go? Do they move into their dorm rooms with lower risk students and students who have definitively tested negative? Does this create an immediate Corona-cluster? Do all students living with a higher-risk student in a dorm or frat house or apartment building have to isolate for 14 days? And what, exactly, does that look like when you’re all sharing a bathroom?
Many of the cafeterias will be closed for seating and food will be “grab and go” at most open campuses. But where do you go with your food? Back to your room to watch your online class? What is the benefit associated with doing that rather than staying home and watching your online class, where you are presumably less at risk for Coronavirus?
Will professors travel freely on and off campus? Doesn’t that put students at a greater risk? Will sports teams travel to play against other schools? Won’t this significantly increase the risk for spreading Coronavirus?
I don’t blame the colleges. No one can make plans during a pandemic. Obviously, a simple solution does not exist. And, in the midst of a pandemic, it is, shall I say, pompous, to suggest that you have a workable plan that will safely contain a herd of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of students. It is clear that this virus is severely contagious, kills people, and has infinite co-morbidities with which many people will have to live after recovery. That is the only fact we have.
It is out of touch to suggest that meaningful connections can be made over Zoom. Or that students on campus will stay socially distant.
Instead, everyone has to admit that this next semester is going to be somewhat of a waste. Colleges can’t afford to close. Students are going to lose out, whether online or on campus. And a generation of students will have missed a significant piece of their college experience.
Let’s just hope that we can keep them all safe, healthy, and alive.
Deborah Notis has one husband, four boys, and a dog. When not catering to their every whim, Deborah runs GAMECHANGERNOW.COM, a free referral service connecting families to academic, sports, music, and art tutors. Deborah’s writing can be found in various online and print publications, including thepurgechick.wordpress.com. Deborah hangs out on Facebook @debrnotis, on Twitter @draid34, and on Instagram @deb.raider