Section: Editorial

Staff editorial: Spring semester plans pose public health risk

The College announced Monday that it will invite seniors, juniors and sophomores back to campus for the spring semester. Though we, the Collegian’s executive staff, are thrilled to be able to return to the Hill to complete our final semester at Kenyon, we are equally troubled by the administration’s decision to invite back to campus more students than it had this fall. 

President Sean Decatur has emphasized throughout this tumultuous semester that the College’s de-densification of campus has been key to maintaining a safe environment on the Hill. Inviting sophomores back this spring, in addition to juniors and seniors, strikes us a dangerous departure from this strategy.

The administration and the Board of Trustees have made this decision as the United States reports record-breaking numbers of cases on a near-daily basis. The recent surge in cases in Ohio and across the nation — with no vaccine in sight — suggests that, if anything, the pandemic will only worsen in the weeks leading up to next semester. This means that we have no way of knowing whether this plan will even be feasible come February. At this point, to promise that three class years will return to campus this spring seems irresponsible and  premature.  

This week, Decatur told the Collegian that, because the junior and senior classes are smaller than the first-year and sophomore classes, the College’s choice to invite three classes back will only result in a 100- to 200-student increase from this semester. We worry that an increase of 100 to 200 students might be significant enough to make or break the College’s management of the pandemic, and that it may be an oversight on the administration’s part at a time when there is no room for error.

None of this is to say that we, as seniors, do not wish that all of us could be on campus in the spring, sophomores included. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that sacrifices need to be made for the sake of public health. Asking the sophomores to take one for the team and stay home should be one of those sacrifices. 

Many juniors and seniors are unhappy with this decision, both because they feel it is unfair for sophomores to spend an entire year on campus while other classes cannot and because of the previously outlined safety risks. This has put sophomores in a difficult position: They are excited to return to campus, yet many of them cannot help but feel like they have a target on their backs. Moreover, if sophomores were to return to campus this spring as currently planned and the campus experiences an outbreak, the administration and student body could easily use them as a scapegoat, since they were not part of the original group expected to return in the spring. We fear this could cause the rest of the community to avoid taking responsibility for their role in an outbreak. 

We call on the administration to reconsider its decision to invite sophomores back to campus in the spring. It would never have occurred to us, before this year, that we would be in a position to argue against allowing all students back to campus for spring of our senior year. However, it is ultimately in all of our best interests for the administration to rethink this plan. They should come to a decision only when they can be fully confident in students’ safety on campus. 

The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief  Mae Hunt ’21 and  Evey Weisblat ’21, managing editor Sophie Krichevsky ’21 and executive director Elizabeth Stanley ’21. You can contact them at hunt1@kenyon.edu, weisblat1@kenyon.edu, krichevsky1@kenyon.edu and stanley2@kenyon.edu, respectively.

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