An email sent Nov. 10 from Dean of Students Mark Blackburn made it clear that for the remaining weeks of in-person learning, any student who tested positive for COVID-19, had close contact with someone who was positive or was awaiting test results needed to leave campus. While this is an understandable reaction to an increase in cases on campus, the announcement comes with a harsh caveat: Students are on their own.
With only two options — an immediate return home or finding accommodations at personal expense — students facing the pandemic at its peak no longer have the support the university promised at the beginning of the semester.
When Augustana opened back up this fall, it was understood that some students would have to quarantine. But before returning to campus, Blackburn said in a meeting to students and their families that alternate housing would be arranged at no cost for students who pay for university housing and who could not go home to quarantine.
This decision is a reversal of that promise and a breach of the social contract created this year between students and the university.
It was expected that the university would respond to surging cases. And it’s understood that students quarantining after Nov. 10 would surpass the time allotted for on-campus learning. But the university’s approach to this problem doesn’t sit right. The solution is not to abandon students during the most stressful time of the semester as they’re facing a virus, asking them to either put their families at risk or spend their own money on a hotel.
While the recent surge of COVID-19 cases on campus could be linked to the irresponsibility of some students, it is unfair to punish all students when classrooms and the commons are places where the spread of the virus is just as plausible.
Giving students no other cost-effective options and forcing them to go back home puts their parents, grandparents, siblings or significant others lives at risk. After living through nine months of this pandemic, we’ve all heard about the potential effects of COVID-19. It is risky — and heartless — to put them in a situation where the spread of the virus is even more likely.
This announcement also came at a stressful point in the semester for students, who haven’t had a break yet this semester and are busy preparing for finals. The announcement forces students to go into isolation off campus, yet the university has provided few resources to do so.
We knew going into the semester that for in-person classes to work, it was necessary to have cooperation between the administration and students. But this recent decision does not reflect that relationship. Instead, it’s an indication of an unwillingness to cooperate, one that puts emotional and financial burdens on students who have already faced the challenges of this unprecedented year.
We expect better from our institution. We might have made it through the semester, but there are lessons to be learned for the upcoming months. Augustana is a community. Let’s take care of each other.
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