On Nov. 5, the Collegian published a staff editorial arguing that the administration’s decision to invite sophomores, in addition to upperclass students, back to campus in the spring could make it difficult to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak and potentially jeopardize the completion of an in-person semester. While it is important that the administration not renege on their original offer to bring upperclass students back to campus come January, the success of the semester does not hinge on whether that offer is extended to sophomores.
Due to the relatively large size of the first-year class compared to that of the junior and senior classes, there will only be 100 to 200 more students on campus in the spring than there were this fall. Given that there were approximately 1,100 students on campus this semester, this amounts to a relatively small increase in the on-campus student population: an increase that seems highly unlikely to upend Kenyon’s mission to be virus-free, based on the performance of comparable institutions.
For example, Colby College, a liberal arts school in Maine, invited all 2,000 students back to campus for the fall and completed their semester as planned without significant interruption caused by the virus. They plan to bring all 2,000 students back again in the spring. Not every college was successful in managing the virus this past semester, but schools such as Kenyon, Colby and Amherst College (which only had three total positive cases), have provided a groundwork for how it can be accomplished.
Sophomores have already proven their ability to comply with the administration’s COVID-19 guidelines. The successful completion of the in-person portion of the fall semester would not have been possible if, by and large, first years and sophomores had not done their part by wearing masks and limiting social gatherings. Although there were some instances in which students violated social-distancing guidelines, over the course of the entire semester only eight students, less than one percent of the on-campus population, tested positive for COVID-19. If this level of compliance is matched by juniors and seniors in the spring, then the campus should have no difficulty keeping cases to a minimum.
The administration’s goal should be to maximize the number of students on campus without sacrificing their safety. Because of the housing lottery, most sophomores will be placed in singles in dorm-style residence halls. The de-densification of campus, along with the preexisting mask-wearing and social-distancing protocols, will allow Kenyon to remain safe.
Kenyon is not alone in their plans to increase capacity for the spring semester. Colleges feel like they now have a better understanding of the steps they must take to prevent an outbreak on campus, and therefore they are more confident in their abilities to accommodate a larger on-campus population. With these precautions, the administration can address concerns over student health while also preserving the in-person experience for a greater number of students.
It is possible that the state of the pandemic in late January will make it exceedingly difficult for students to be able to safely return to campus, and, upon arrival, maintain the sanctity of the isolated campus community. If this is the case, Gov. Mike DeWine may prohibit all in-person classes statewide, making the debate about sophomore attendance a moot point.
I understand the resentment that other classes feel towards sophomores at the moment. First years may be wondering why sophomores are able to return while they are not, and upperclass students may be concerned that sophomores will increase the risk of an outbreak that could result in all students being sent home early. However, the success of Kenyon and other comparable institutions this past fall, such as Colby, Wesleyan University and Cornell College, suggests that slightly increasing the on-campus student population by inviting sophomores back in the spring is a reasonable thing to do. The sophomore class is grateful to have an opportunity to once again study on campus, and, as sophomores proved in the fall, they will not take this opportunity for granted.