I see that college reopenings are going about as well as I expected.
Hundreds of colleges announced that they would hold in-person classes, only to reverse course.
The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill brought students back, only to send them home a week later when cases spiked on campus. Other schools have threatened to kick out students caught partying, and some have already done so. Last week,
suspended 23 students who gathered on the quad late at night in violation of rules limiting crowds and requiring the wearing of masks.
All of this was completely predictable, and yet school officials are reacting as if they’re shocked, shocked to find young people hanging out, drinking and having fun. Perhaps they sincerely believed every college student in America could be persuaded to conduct themselves like members of a chaste religious order.
This was, of course, magical thinking, and it formed the basis for every single college reopening plan.
But rather than admit that these plans were flawed in conception, school administrators are saddling their students with unrealistic expectations and blaming them when things go wrong.
“We have one shot to make this happen,” Syracuse University Vice Chancellor J. Michael Hayne wrote in a letter to students. “The world is watching, and they expect you to fail. Prove them wrong.”
It’s easy to lecture students for not following COVID-19 guidelines.
But will it do any good?
My guess is no.
If school administrators want in-person school to work, they need to look inward, figure out where their plans went wrong and develop better ones.
Most of all, they need to be realistic, recognize that students are on campus because they want to be with their peers and promote low-risk socializing.
Students should be encouraged to spend as much time outside as possible, where the risk of spreading coronavirus is much lower. Large gatherings are a bad idea, but smaller get-togethers might be OK.
Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist at Harvard University who recently authored an essay in The Atlantic magazine titled “Colleges Are Getting Ready to Blame Their Students,” has criticized schools for not doing a better job of letting students know what they can do for fun.
“From what I can see, universities have done nothing to offer safer alternatives to student partying,” Marcus told Syracuse.com. “Without that, students will party. This is a no-brainer.”
Marcus doesn’t believe shaming and scolding students leads to better public health outcomes, and I don’t, either.
Sternly worded letters from administrators might get people’s attention, but they’re unlikely to keep young people holed up in their dorm rooms for very long.
I don’t blame the students for school reopenings that go badly.
I blame the school officials who encouraged them to return to campus despite knowing full well that 18 to 22 year olds are least likely to follow guidelines for preventing the spread of coronavirus.
If anyone deserves a scolding, it’s them.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.