Colleges Will Try to Reopen Safely in the Fall. But Will Students Follow the Rules?

Dear Commons Community,

Colleges around the country are making plans to deal with coronavirus in the fall.  Some will be operating online while others plan to open their campuses to their students.  For the latter, there is considerable risk.   The Chronicle of Higher Education has a lead article this morning discussing this issue. Here is an excerpt.

“This fall, if a Vanderbilt University student walks around campus without a mask, a “public-health ambassador” might stop the student, remind them that the institution requires face coverings, and hand over a packet stocked with a mask, gloves, and hand sanitizer.

Vanderbilt’s ambassador program, which debuted last month, is part of the university’s plan for ensuring — or, at least, encouraging — compliance with public-health guidelines designed to ease the spread of Covid-19. The first group of ambassadors are campus public-safety employees who have received special training. University officials say they soon hope to train “other members of our community.”

This fall, ambassadors will encourage mask-wearing — the university is requiring them in all public spaces, including outdoors — and attempt to ease congestion at building entrances and exits. They’ll answer people’s questions and direct them to the nearest hand-sanitizing station. If there are any government-ordered restrictions on, for instance, sizes of gatherings, they’ll assist with that, too, according to the university.

A Vanderbilt spokesman declined to provide additional information about whether or how the public-health ambassadors would enforce any of these measures, or who else might serve. Their goal, he said, is “promoting and encouraging social norms that are to be expected of our community with regard to health and safety.”

“I really wish I could tell you I have faith in students to comply with these rules. But I don’t.”

To return to learning in person this fall as the pandemic rages on, many colleges will require or recommend face coverings, physical-distancing, limited gathering sizes, and travel restrictions. But how will they get their students to follow the rules?

Colleges already struggle to get students to abide by health and safety policies, particularly those governing alcohol and drug use. The Covid-19 restrictions at many institutions — which will upend most typical aspects of student life — will be even more stringent and challenging to enforce.

Compliance is “the true wild card upon returning to campus in large numbers,” wrote Jean Chin, former executive director of the University of Georgia’s health center and chair of the American College Health Association’s Covid-19 task force, in an email.

The public-health risks are immense. On college campuses, designed to encourage social interactions, students could easily spread the virus to one another and beyond. While most traditional-age students aren’t at serious risk of developing complications if they contract Covid-19, many faculty and staff members are.”

I don’t mean to sound overly pessimistic but it seems to me that residential colleges that open for on campus classes and student life are one keg party away from a health catastrophe.


Comments are closed.