By Ashley Ip ’22, Isabel Padalecki ’22 and Adelle Patten ’21
On June 18th, Davidson College announced its plans for Fall 2020. According to these plans, students will be reconvening “as a residential campus in August.” This decision came as a surprise to us, given that safety and equity are guiding principles of the college. Many students rejoiced, ready to return to a sense of normalcy. But for others, this sentiment is not shared. For immunocompromised and “high-risk” students, this feels like a death sentence. This decision is also a disservice to the whole community: students, faculty and staff, their families, and folks from the Town of Davidson.
There is no “choice” for immunocompromised students. But, it’s not just about us. It is about the majority of students who are following the hopes and dreams of a safe return to campus without realizing the risks and fundamentally altered experience they’re signing up for. COVID-19 will affect everyone on Davidson’s campus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that healthy individuals, or those without any pre-existing conditions, make up almost thirty percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations. In fact, according to the CDC, up to twenty percent of COVID patients between the ages of 20 and 44 require hospitalization in the US. From healthy students to older faculty members and staff, health, safety and avoiding infection is no guarantee.
Viruses and sickness spread like wildfire on Davidson’s campus. From pink eye, to strep throat, to hand-foot-mouth, to the common cold, we know all too well that Davidson is a breeding ground for germs. COVID-19 will be no different. It is hard to imagine how students will comply with our “shared obligations” needed to keep us safe. Under the current plan, by the time students are tested for COVID-19, they will have already shown symptoms, making them carriers of the disease who have unknowingly infected many of our community members. We all miss the community we’ve built at Davidson, but this should not come at the cost of safety, health, and potentially even the lives of members of the Davidson community.
Davidson is relying on our “shared obligations” to protect us. This plan is based on a myriad of hopes, dreams, and denials. Students are actively partying on beaches and attending, or even organizing, re-open protests. What makes Davidson confident that these students will come back to campus and have a change of mind when they’re failing to respect state and CDC guidelines now? It takes one person to cause an outbreak.
Davidson can require face masks inside campus buildings, but what about the inevitable gatherings that will occur on and off campus? College is an inherently social environment; students want to socialize and congregate together. Students will gather regardless of the rules imposed by the college. They will gather especially if such rules are primarily upheld by some mythical sense of Davidson “community” that will supposedly manifest into a culture of mutual responsibility. We do not trust our fellow students to follow social distancing strictly. Hyper-individualistic students make decisions based on their own prerogative. People can and will cut corners on safety, as evidenced by the behavior we are currently seeing at a national level (many still won’t even wear a mask to the grocery store). By bringing us all together in close residential spaces, Davidson is enabling hyper-individualistic people to do so, turning the lives of the most vulnerable into collateral damage in some sick cost-benefit analysis.
The decision to invite students back as a residential community in the fall is especially egregious because it is incredibly inequitable. Instead of investing all of our time, energy, and resources into building up remote capacities for all courses, the administration has decided to allow for at least some classes to be fully or predominantly face-to-face. This discriminates against the immunocompromised and high-risk students who do not have the luxury of choosing to attend these mostly in-person classes. Even if there are remote options tacked onto these primarily in-person courses, immunocompromised and “high-risk” students will face social and academic isolation being the one student in a group of fifteen Zooming into class while the rest convene in person. Further, this will also inevitably encourage hyper-individualistic Davidson students to avoid missing class when mildly ill due to academic and social pressure, therefore spreading COVID in the classroom. How are students and faculty expected to show up to face-to-face classes and have productive conversation knowing their lives are at risk?
Data has shown that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black communities and other POC communities. How will Davidson protect these communities, when the healthcare system continually fails to protect them? We can’t have a conversation about dismantling Davidson’s racism without making the right choice in response to COVID-19. Partnering with Atrium Health does not end systemic medical racism, and it does not erase fear.
We recognize that for some students, campus is the best place to be. Campus should be open for those students. However, remote instruction is still the best decision for these students as well. Colleges like Bowdoin, as well as Davidson itself this past spring, have shown that it is possible to plan for a fall that provides housing to the students in greatest need without reopening entirely. In fact, by not re-opening entirely, the students who need to live on campus would be able to reside in a low-density community rather than being forced to incur the risks of living in a crowded residential community. Further, Davidson is a wealthy institution, with wealthy trustees who can access a wealth of resources. As of December 31, 2019, Davidson College’s endowment is valued at $919 million. Davidson ought to be utilizing its resources and wealth to figure out how to provide faculty and staff with pay in a fully-remote environment rather than exhausting time and energy trying to contain a mysterious and deadly virus that spreads best within close proximity. Following the Bowdoin model would not only save lives; it would protect the incomes of on-campus employees.
Students and faculty have demonstrated their abilities to pivot and make-do when new restrictions present themselves. Requiring remote learning for most classes still fulfills the college’s purpose of developing humane instincts and disciplined, creative minds. We found connection in our rapidly-changing world after being sent home abruptly this past semester, all without risking the lives of the folks in our community. If we pivot now, and focus all of our efforts on creating a supportive digital community, we can keep the “Davidson community” alive and well while doing the same for our students, faculty, and staff.
COVID-19 is still a global pandemic, with more than 2.3 million cases reported in the United States. 120,000 lives have been lost. We can’t forget that nationally and locally, the situation of COVID transmission is only worsening. If re-opening is really worth the risk of a COVID outbreak, tell us which students, faculty, and staff you are okay with dying. Tell us their names. By the time Davidson realizes it has made a mistake, it will be too late. Because if there is an outbreak on campus that infects at least 100 people, statistically, people will die. Are we among them? Is Davidson really okay with that risk?
Ashley Ip ’22 is a Physics and Anthropology major, Isabel Padalecki ’22 is a History and Gender and Sexuality Studies major, and Adelle Patten ’21 is a Studio Art major and Digital Studies minor. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the CDC as the U.S. Center for Disease and Control, rather than the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control. The spelling of “predominantly” was also edited from its initial, less frequent spelling “predominately.” Updated 6/24/2020.