Now that colleges and universities reopened, we are quickly learning what worked, what didn’t, and what we can expect from administrators and students going forward. The main takeaway is that there is time to hit that reset button and keep moving forward with health and safety as the focus. And of course, earning back the trust of parents, students, faculty, and staff.
So What Happened?
As students returned to college, COVID-19 also joined the fun and made its appearance on almost every campus that reopened. While some college officials tried to convince students to lay low and avoid gatherings, their warnings didn’t seem to work. College students acted like…well, college students in a pre-pandemic world. College administrators are now fighting n uphill battle as campuses are donning the labels, “hotspot” and “super spreaders.”
Was it Inevitable?
Many are asking how this could have been avoided and if college administrators are truly taking the right actions. For instance, Syracuse suspended 23 students after they attended an on-campus gathering. The dean of students and the head of public safety deemed the gathering, “incredibly reckless behavior,” as they justified their decision.
But again, let’s consider this question: What do administrators and the public really expect students to do once they arrive on campus?
Without specific information and opportunities to socialize, reunite with friends, and make new ones, social gatherings amongst college students were bound to happen. Get-togethers and socializing is the majority of the reason why students choose to live on campus. And for college freshman, most were looking forward to this day for quite a while and the temptations of living in a new world with what almost feels like different rules is a call for liberation and individualism.
That is unless it’s 2020 and there is a lingering pandemic with an expectation that behaviors are to be altered. But, if you are between the ages of 18 and 22 and told that you may contract the virus and have a very high chance of getting over it and you will be fine, then you may feel like it is business as usual.
Considering that most campuses shut down after spring break, colleges and universities did have a good bit of time to figure out a plan for a safe reopening. However, planning with a full-blown pandemic in mind was challenging with so many moving parts and without having prior experience in this type of environment.
College Kids are “Kids”
Planning to hit a moving target aside, there’s a chance that there was a lack of focus on the side effects of the pandemic such as the mental health and wellbeing of students. Remember, by age, they are technically adults. However, they are still developing – forming their logic, decision-making habits, and critical thinking.
These young adults are thrown into an environment where the temptation to do everything but stay still constantly surrounds them and the call to fit in is a stronger force than the one that says to follow the rules (that were, by the way, just instituted a short time ago and maybe not even communicated very well).
College kids – especially those being away for the first time – need interaction and community. They thrive on socialization and questioning authority. And they are still in the mental mindset that most of what they do won’t hurt them as their “invincible” attitude has not yet worn down.
So What Can We Do?
While there are many reasons campuses are having a hard time succeeding in this environment, it isn’t impossible to move forward…and ultimately, we must move forward.
For campuses that sent students home or moved from an in-person model to online, now is the time to prepare. Start with the basics of sanitization and processes. Get into the specifics of how students act and interject new habits and ways of doing things that contribute to their experience less than what is taken away from it. Button up the procedures, communicate clearly, and appeal to students in a way that invites constructive contribution rather than restrictive behaviors.
Now is the time to begin laying a new – and improved – foundation to create a safe and healthy environment where students can survive and then thrive. While no one can accurately predict where the virus will be in a few days or months, we can make strides toward a new way of living that promotes health and safety for everyone.