by Alice Berndt ’22 (she/her/hers)
In the past seven months, communities across the country and around the world have had to come together and restructure the ways in which they operate, relying on each other more than ever to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The community that encompasses Davidson College and the Town of Davidson is no exception. The college’s decision to reopen campus for the fall semester presents serious ramifications for the town and its residents.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 dashboard, the Town of Davidson has had 299 cases and six deaths since the start of the pandemic. In a video posted to the town’s COVID-19 Update webpage on August 7th, Town Manager Jamie Justice noted that the numbers in Davidson are trending in the right direction, but the town must continue to take necessary precautions in order to keep those numbers stable. As the fall semester began, the community had to trust that students returning to campus would adhere to these precautions as well.
Students themselves also expressed concerns about the reopening of the college. “I was really skeptical coming back,” Ella Stewart ‘23 said. “I don’t think I thought the ‘shared sense of community’ that they kept calling upon was going to actually work out in terms of following COVID guidelines.”
Amanda Preston, the Communications Director for the Town of Davidson, offered an alternate perspective on behalf of the town. “We knew the Town of Davidson was clearly going to be impacted by Davidson College’s decision to reopen campus for the fall semester, but the college did a great job of communicating early and often with the town to keep us informed of their plans. We understand the need to make their decision to best serve all of their students, just as we make our decisions to best serve the needs of our community.”
Despite concerns, students and faculty have been pleasantly surprised by the success of the college’s reopening thus far. “I think people are really trying their best, and I think most people are following the rules,” Julia Bainum ‘21 said. Dr. Greg Snyder, a professor in the Religious Studies Department, added, “I have heard people remark how law-abiding the students seem to be, walking around town in their masks. Only positives, no negatives.”
Eddie Beach, a town resident and founder of the Davidson Community Garden, provided insight into how residents feel about the reopening, saying the majority of people he has spoken with are less concerned about the impact on the town and more so on whether the college will be able to have a successful and complete semester.
Others, however, have expressed concerns about student behavior off campus. Ben Leach ‘22 explained his frustration with seeing students not wearing masks at his off-campus apartment building, stating, “I think it’s a demonstration of entitlement: people who can afford to live off campus, who can afford to get the virus because they’re young or they have a family who will support them if they do get it.”
Leach went on to discuss what this kind of behavior means for the community as a whole. “If the townspeople are seeing a pattern of Davidson students not wearing masks, then that, I think, also solidifies in their mind that it’s not a priority of the college.”
This argument goes in both directions. While it is certainly the responsibility of Davidson students to do their part to keep the town a safe space, students such as Leach ask that town residents do the same. For instance, students have noticed mask-less town residents frequenting campus despite signs detailing mask requirements.
Leach observed this same trend commuting to and from campus. “I frequently pass this crucial point in the boundaries of campus where I’m seeing townspeople making this active decision to come onto campus without a mask,” he said.
Dr. Snyder also acknowledged, “Some people might find the mask-wearing rules on campus property a little onerous, especially while exercising on the track or running on the cross-country trails.”
Beyond the mask requirement and other on-campus restrictions for residents, COVID-19 has also affected the relationship between the town and the college in terms of volunteer opportunities. Student volunteers at the Ada Jenkins Center, a nonprofit that provides daycare and tutoring services to children in the Davidson area, face the challenges of online learning not only as students but also as tutors.
“We have sort of gotten implicit instructions from the college that they’re really trying to limit volunteers in person because that just opens up a whole other layer of exposure potential,” said Jamie Rose Montange ‘22, who volunteered with the administrative side of Ada Jenkins this summer.
Bainum, also an Ada Jenkins volunteer, described a typical virtual tutoring session, which includes two students and two tutors on the same Google Meet call: “The students are working on different assignments, but you can’t walk them through anything because then the other one is also there.”
“It’s a lot of waiting for people to help with technology problems, a lot of lagging screens and not being able to access homework,” said Stewart, another volunteer. “It’s definitely more difficult to engage with as many students.”
The boundaries of virtual learning, however, have not discouraged these students from continuing to volunteer. “You’re losing a little bit of community, but the people that you are meeting with, you’re getting to know more and more,” Stewart said. “The kids are my absolute favorite part. That’s why I’m doing this.”
Not all volunteer opportunities, however, faced major changes due to COVID-19. Eddie Beach explained recent adaptations to the Davidson Community Garden, stating, “Being outdoors, we are able to space ourselves, and everyone wears a mask, so that the impact in terms of contagiousness is minimized.”
When asked about how the pandemic has affected the garden’s volunteer numbers, Beach responded, “We’ve had a few volunteers that decided not to risk coming — older adults that were worried about it.” Besides those few individuals and a number of larger groups that often come together, such as members of Turner House, Beach said, “We haven’t been affected very much so far.”
Beach reflected on the positive impact the garden has had on the community during the past seven months, remarking, “People are glad to escape from inside and to have some social interaction and to do something worthwhile,” he said.
Community members agree that now is a time for everyone to come together and take responsibility. Montagne said, “I think it’s so important for Davidson students to understand that their actions in the community do matter. Setting an example of responsibility, compassion, and care for our community in the interactions they have with the town of Davidson is something I think many students should be thinking about.”