Upon our return in August, the College of William and Mary is going to look entirely different than it has during past semesters. Students won’t be packed into the dining halls, piling on top of each other to fill their own plates with the french fries at the grill station. Students won’t file into lecture halls in the Integrated Science Center anymore. Students won’t fill every chair in Earl Gregg Swem Library on weekends to study — or at least to pretend to study — with their closest friends.
However, right now, we don’t exactly know what campus will actually look like. We know what won’t be allowed: groups of more than 50 people in a room, self-service in dining halls, and any public interaction without masks. We also know that the College plans to eliminate many of the triple and quadruple dorms across campus, as well as students’ usual ability to access dorms besides their own. But there has been little word on how the College will actively work to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the fall semester outside of jargon and buzzwords.
My problem comes from knowing that reorganizing campus necessities, such as the three dining halls, will take a lot of time, energy and manpower in order to make them as safe as possible for students and staff. First of all, many of the stations are self-serving, so more employees will need to be available to serve students. Also, in addition to everyone having to wear masks, the College has announced that they will be installing plexiglass shields at various places within the dining halls. Beyond that, seating will be very limited, and they will be focused mostly on takeout. But between these announcements about how the dining experience will change, there are not many specifics. For example, students walk around the dining halls with open plates, moving station to station, to get what they want. Will this be able to continue? There are piles of plates and cups full of utensils, all of which are completely susceptible to contamination. Will someone have to monitor them? What about new takeout containers? Also, what will the College do to prevent employees from contracting COVID-19 from one student and passing it to other students when they serve them? Ultimately, this is not a straightforward fix, and this is just one of the many issues that the College has to work out in about two months before thousands of students flood to campus again.
“Ultimately, this is not a straightforward fix, and this is just one of the many issues that the College has to work out in about two months before thousands of students flood to campus again.”
I’m certainly not advocating for the College to remain closed through the fall semester. In fact, I’m looking forward to returning to campus. I simply want to acknowledge the work that has to be done to change campus life, and that the College should focus on these pressing issues instead of getting distracted by smaller issues, such as breaking up existing triple and quadruple dorms.
I want the College to focus on the students’ wellbeing in these potentially dangerous situations instead of getting distracted by micromanaging the small, inconsequential details. I’m wondering: why is the College wasting their time breaking up many of the triples and quadruple rooms? If rooms typically have two people, what is one or two more people in the designated “Flexible Family Units” actually going to change?
If a student has opted into one of the larger rooms, that means that they are likely rooming with close friends, and they will see each other often on campus regardless. Besides, in the College’s email, they stated that not all of these rooms would be broken up, and there are students who live off campus in larger groups who cannot be broken up at all. I don’t understand why the College is wasting its time and resources finding new places for students to live when that manpower should be focused on more urgent issues concerning the daily flow of students on campus. Besides reorganizing dining halls, this includes reallocating classrooms to better accommodate social distancing and creating a plan for students who cannot safely return to campus.
“I don’t understand why the College is wasting its time and resources … when that manpower should be focused on more urgent issues concerning the daily flow of students on campus.”
Furthermore, I don’t know where the College would place these students who they are removing from their rooms. Housing is already limited, and the new Second Year Experience program requires all sophomores to stay on campus along with freshmen. That volume of students, in addition to those who are staying on campus instead of studying abroad due to travel cancellations, makes relocating students a complex issue. What rooms are left?
The College says that they will contact those students who they plan to remove from their rooms, for which they have already signed the housing contract, by July 1. I am asking the College to rethink this plan and spend that time focusing on adapting parts of campus that will make a positive impact on student safety, instead of causing unnecessary housing concerns.
Email Alyssa Slovin at firstname.lastname@example.org.