Veritati: COVID-19 Campus Responses

There is no denying the eerie atmosphere settling over Colgate’s campus right now. Most students spent the hours leading up to this evening attempting to predict when the university would address its COVID-19 guidelines and an email would land in our collective inboxes. Fueled by a 24-hour news cycle with chilling headlines, anxiety-ridden rumors flew. Reading that other universities are closing temporarily, switching to online courses and responding to confirmed cases left much to be answered for our own campus. Community members wanted to know what to prepare for, and how to make the best decisions. That is fair.

What is not fair is leaving the student body alone to speculation and hysteria, with only gossipy, off-handed comments from professors and national newspapers to inform them. What is not fair is leaving the quelling of fear to the Student Government Association, whose leaders are, at the end of the day, just students. Students spreading misinformation, predicting when the administration will email policy updates, when meetings of certain emergency boards may be and whether school will be canceled indefinitely is not only unproductive, it’s unsafe. The administration should have addressed the spread of rumors and communicated to students a timeline of decision making and announcements. This should have happened well before 6:16 p.m. on the Tuesday before spring break.

Students were left with just days to change plans and make decisions that could have critical public health outcomes. And not just national health, but Colgate’s public health outcomes. Something that was once very distant is about to become quite personal. Considering the lack of clarity in the guidelines for student spring break travel detailed in President Casey’s email, students remain without consensus on how to respond. At a time when comparable schools such as Bucknell and Cornell swiftly sent students home for the semester, discouraging any travel, a mild encouragement to remain on campus from Colgate’s administration seems concerningly indecisive.

Too many questions remain unanswered. How self-quarantining will work and who, if anybody, should be expecting to partake in that process, are questions students should know the answer to in making travel decisions. The likelihoods of being barred from returning to campus, or of having campus closed entirely need to be known. These may be hard to answer, but students deserve that level of transparency. Knowledge means agency in time of widespread fear and growing hysteria. We may be adults, but we are still young. We need the kind of guidance that keeps us level-headed. We ask that the university do more to maintain an open line of communication.

As much as students deserve more clarity and more information, we need to heed the advice that has been given. Our administration is discouraging travel during spring break, and for good reason. Colgate’s administration cannot legally keep students on campus, but the student body should elect to do so. We urge students to partake in these mitigation efforts and remain on campus in the coming weeks. Take a deep breath, Colgate. We will get through this.