Section: Editorial

Staff Editorial: Kenyon must support students after being unprepared for outbreak

Before the semester began, Director of Health and Counseling Chris Smith told the Collegian that, in his opinion, “Kenyon is prepared to handle a large outbreak.” After the events of the past two weeks — over 50 positive cases among the student body, a shortage of isolation housing and difficulty providing meals to sick students — it is clear that wasn’t  the case. 

To be clear, we are not blaming a single individual for the COVID-19 outbreak and its ramifications; that would not be fair. We also understand that Kenyon’s unique location in rural Ohio poses a greater challenge to the College, and it is difficult to scramble together locations for isolation housing when off-campus lodgings are so limited in such a remote setting. Despite all of this, though, Kenyon’s administration failed to prepare for the deadlier, more transmissible delta variant. Knowing the science behind the new mutations, the College should have been better prepared for a potential outbreak. 

We know that the financial cost of COVID-19 preparedness is high. But, as we are seeing now, the cost —  financial and personal — of blind optimism is even higher. Kenyon must do better in order to protect and care for its students, as well as the surrounding community. By not providing access to proper testing, isolation housing, food and remote learning options, the College has neglected to support its students’ academic, mental and physical needs. 

To begin with, Kenyon brought 1,910 students to campus for the 2021-22 academic year. Students are packed together in triples that were designed to be doubles, and in doubles that were designed to be singles. We are standing shoulder to shoulder with our peers in the servery, weaving through waves of people on Middle Path and living with up to seven other people in our residences. 

This is a stark contrast to campus life last year, when Kenyon made the necessary decision to de-densify its campus. Only 1,200 students occupied the campus at any given time, and a majority of students had rooms to themselves. 

Knowing that the College would be overly densified, and that the delta variant is two times as contagious as other strains and heavily prevalent in a largely unvaccinated Knox County, Kenyon needed plans to accommodate for a potential outbreak.  

Instead, this semester has proven to be a logistical nightmare for the College. While confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket on campus, the College lacks the capacity to house students in isolation. In a rush to find spaces for infected students, individuals who have access to vehicles have been asked to drive home to isolate with their families. Smith has also called symptomatic students in various isolation residences, asking them to move back to their respective residences on campus to live among their roommates. 

We’ve experienced the effects of the College’s lack of preparation firsthand: One member of our executive staff is currently sick with COVID-19, and, due to a lack of available isolation beds, they are being asked to isolate in their home, putting their housemates at risk of infection.Additionally, despite experiencing symptoms, they have been told to pick up meals at Peirce Pub each day, unless they experience such “significant symptoms” that they cannot travel to Peirce.

Perhaps the most worrisome part of this complicated situation is that the College is directly violating CDC guidelines, despite claiming adherence to them. The most important thing to do after testing positive, especially in such tight living circumstances, is to isolate from those who are not sick, including those who are vaccinated. The College’s policy sees to it that symptomatic students live alongside the rest of the campus population, guaranteeing the further transmission of COVID-19. Just because the campus is largely vaccinated does not mean you abandon all protocols. 

Given the College’s blatant failure in preventing viral transmission and caring for its students, the only reasonable solution to help mediate the spread and accommodate students in isolation is to switch to remote classes — or, at the very least, help professors adjust to a hybrid model — for the foreseeable future. Many classes are already half empty due to the number of close contacts and positive tests on campus. Students who are unable to or feel uncomfortable attending in person are falling significantly behind in their classes, as professors are not equipped to conduct hybrid classes. Transitioning to a remote environment for the near future will ease the stress of students and professors alike, while minimizing exposure at this critical time. The administration must consider the safety and well-being of their students, and make substantial changes to their current COVID-19 protocol —  it is overdue. 

The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief  Jordy Fee-Platt ’22 and  Linnea Mumma ’22, managing editor Amanda Pyne ’22 and executive director Joe Wint ’22. You can contact them at feeplatt1@kenyon.edu, mumma1@kenyon.edu, pyne1@kenyon.edu and wint1@kenyon.edu, respectively.

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