Saturday, August 22, 2020

College Students Return to Campuses, But Even Amidst COVID-19 Continue to Socialize

As I noted in my previous entry, "teens and young adults like to socialize, pure and simple." Nowhere is this more clear than at those U.S. universities whose administrators have opted to bring students back to campus for in-person instruction of some form. 

Inside the classroom, the combination of instructors' ability to monitor students' mask-wearing, the spacing of available seats, and potential peer pressure to conform from students who do not want their classes to be disrupted by mask-refuser holdouts, makes me think safety measures will largely succeed.  

The greater threat of Coronavirus spreading, as has begun to be borne out in the last week or so, is students' socializing and partying outside the classroom. Today's New York Times has an article entitled "Stop Campus Partying to Slow the Virus? Colleges Try but Often Fail" (link). After describing some of the  campuses at which clusters of new COVID-19 cases have recently emerged, the article discusses the myriad responses administrators have tried, in an effort to contain the spread.

These responses include no-party mandates, student codes and pledges, monitoring by residence-hall advisors, punitive sanctions (suspensions from school and evictions from dormitories), encouragement of students to inform on each other's safety non-compliance, shaming messages ("Do you want to be the person responsible for sending everyone home?"), and "We're in this together" advertising campaigns. The sheer breadth of these measures suggests no one method has been overwhelmingly successful.

As a result of new COVID-19 outbreaks at some universities, some are indeed sending students back home for online-only instruction (e.g., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), whereas others have told students who were scheduled to return to campus not to bother after all (e.g., Michigan State). The schools reversing or delaying their returns to on-campus instruction currently number in the hundreds, according to the website Inside Higher Ed.

Unless there is a major sea change in students' willingness to refrain from socializing -- which is not entirely students' fault, in my view, given universities' mixed messaging in continuing to stage entertainment-type events such as football games with tens of thousands of spectators in attendance -- I see the present trends toward greater spread and shifts to off-campus learning continuing.

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