In last week’s edition of the Collegian, there was a news story detailing an anonymous student’s experience with Kenyon’s quarantine protocol. I am that student.
The day before I was supposed to move into my residence hall at Kenyon, my dad was notified that he tested positive for COVID-19. Later that week, I tested positive as well, followed by my mom and siblings. The fact that my entire household fell ill with the virus was nerve-racking in and of itself, but as time passed, I soon realized that the stress of being sick and worrying about my family was overshadowed by a greater anxiety: dealing with Kenyon’s ever-changing protocol.
I experienced symptoms for a little under a week, during which I spent a lot of time researching the disease. CDC guidelines state that, following a positive COVID-19 test, “you can be around others after 10 days since symptoms appeared and [after] 24 hours with no fever,” as long as other symptoms are also improving. It had been a week since I had initially informed Kenyon of my and my dad’s positives tests and had yet to hear of a plan for my return, so I sent an email to the Office of Student Affairs with a link to these guidelines attached.
I also explained in this email that I was asymptomatic, had not had a fever for over 24 hours and per the guidelines, would be able to safely end my quarantine period on Thursday, Sept. 3. In a response I received that same day, I was told that Kenyon is operating under the guidelines of Knox Public Health, and that the plan for my return would be based on what they advised.
On Thursday, Sept. 3, a public health official from Knox Public Health informed me that, per CDC guidelines, I could return to campus and resume my normal activities as early as the following day. However, the email I received from the school the next day told me otherwise: instead of being allowed to return to campus normally, I would be placed in an “isolation house.” This left me with more questions than answers; I had never seen or heard of this house before, nor did I know how long I would reside there.
I found it odd that Kenyon was not following the advice of medical professionals, but I also understood their responsibility to take precautionary measures. Overall, I felt optimistic about my return, as it ensured that I would actually be on campus; I had been attending typically in-person classes via video call — and, to make it worse, I was without textbooks, which made it very difficult to stay up to date on my coursework. My optimism, however, quickly vanished after I arrived at the house.
As “isolation house” is not exactly the most cheerful of names, I wasn’t expecting much, but the space had not been cleaned at all. Every surface was covered in dust and the floor was littered with dozens of dead bugs. Even though I had overcome the shortness of breath I dealt with while experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, I could not take full breaths in this house. The only indications that someone had been there recently were a few rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom and a single, untouched vacuum by the door. To me, the vacuum’s presence seemed to say, “Clean it up yourself,” and I did just that.
I was very distressed the first night I stayed there, not because I was disgusted by the environment, but because I felt so neglected in it. I called a friend to describe the house’s condition and they suggested that maybe the administration was unaware of the fact that it had not been cleaned. It turns out that the school actually wasn’t aware: just further evidence of their shortcomings.
Additionally, the house did not have WiFi, which meant that I was unable to partake in the only thing I had been hopeful for concerning my return: catching up on my classwork. If the school were to have kept me in this “isolation house” for much longer, I would have fallen further behind in my courses than if I had stayed in my hometown. Thankfully, Dean of Students Robin Hart Ruthenbeck arranged for me to be moved to an NCA the following day; she was very kind and responsive when my parents and I reached out to her about the house’s condition.
Although I was no longer contagious, I still tested positive for COVID-19 for four days after I had been cleared by Knox Public Health. Within that time frame, the school asked me to take an EverlyWell test and informed me that, in the event that I tested positive, they would label me as “recovered” on the Kenyon COVID-19 Dashboard. When I tested positive, the school did not follow through with the promise they made, labeling me as an “unusual case” and providing no further information. This, unsurprisingly, led to confusion and fear among members of the Kenyon community.
Not only did the school’s evasiveness regarding my positive test result add to the anxiety of the community, but it contributed to my own as well. When I was cleared by the school to move into my pre-registered housing on Sept. 7, I was met with fear from some friends who were familiar with the details of my situation. Since Kenyon was still treating me like I was sick, in my friends’ eyes, I was still sick.
I felt like a burden to those who had to accommodate me, which led me to experience a lot of guilt about coming back to campus. If Kenyon had been honest with the community about some of the important details of my situation (e.g., the fact that I was not contagious when I returned to campus), I don’t think my transition would have been so difficult and alienating.
When I tested positive for COVID-19, the physical symptoms were not as horrifying as I thought they would be; my family and I experienced very mild symptoms in comparison to what we had seen in the news. There are so many people who are dying or losing the ones they love to this virus, and I am so grateful to have not gone through that. However, I cannot will myself to feel grateful for the way the school handled my situation, which is why I am writing this piece.
COVID-19 left me both mentally and physically exhausted, and when I had fully recovered I looked forward to returning to Gambier because it is a place that has made me feel genuinely happy. Upon returning, however, I was met with so many obstacles that I could not experience the emotional relief I had been longing for. Kenyon cannot treat the next sick student the same way they treated me.
I truly believe that Kenyon has the potential to serve as a model for how colleges and universities in the U.S. should be operating during a pandemic. The many creative adjustments they have made shows that the administration cares about the health and safety of the community. And yet, how is it that a college administration allows roughly half of its students on campus during a pandemic and does not have isolation housing prepared for them? Taking care of a student body requires more than just preventing the spread of sickness; it requires compassion in the instance that a student becomes sick.