Opinion: AU, like other schools, is not ready for in-person classes

The spring 2021 plan doesn’t take health seriously

Opinion: AU, like other schools, is not ready for in-person classes
Therese Wilson is a senior in the School of Public Affairs, majoring in Political Science and Public Health and a staff columnist at The Eagle.

American University has decided, with some ambiguity, to permit limited on-campus and in-person classes and activities for spring 2021. While this is no doubt miraculous to some for various reasons, the choice to allow in-person class meetings is dangerous and unsafe for our community. Until coronavirus infections and prevalence decrease, colleges and universities, including AU, need to remain online to protect their community members. 

From a public health perspective, the decision to remain online entirely is safest for our whole community. The potential for an outbreak is undoubtedly high with college students, as we’ve seen throughout the summer with COVID-19 spikes. Most notably is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), which ceased in-person undergraduate classes only nine days into the fall semester. UNC, which is arguably more equipped to handle infectious spread due to their medical center and the Gillings School of Global Public Health, was still unable to handle the caseload of undergraduate sickness. And, like us with spring 2021, UNC moved its timeline of fall semester courses. 

The socialization in close proximity was no doubt causal for outbreaks both at UNC and beyond; such cases were as disappointing as they were preventable. But, what needs to be considered with COVID-19 and college students exists outside of socialization — it’s part-time service jobs and other high-interaction tasks to survive. 

The cost of tuition at AU and cost of living in D.C. are unaffordable for many college students, particularly those paying their way individually and independently. These folks have no choice but to pay their way with traditionally high-interpersonal contact jobs. From restaurants and retail to sex work, there’s no circumventing that needing to be in D.C. means needing to make money. Allowing space for those folks to have equal opportunity in classes is crucial, no doubt. In the spirit of equity, we need to keep it all online. 

But, instead of running a risk, we should run interference and try to fix the problems of a somewhat stable fall operation. The University would be better off improving what we have rather than risking something to lose. 

The limited and optimistic protections proposed by the University are fantastical. With limited resources, how is it plausible that AU would be able to compile a comprehensive, continuous COVID-19 task force? AU administration has had a terrible track record of providing students, faculty and staff with the resources we’ve been asking for without the presence of a fluctuating pandemic. With such a track record in mind, it’s fear-inducing to consider how the administration, lack of resources and high-stress culture will negatively impact our community. 

Many community members, particularly students, feel as though in-person activities of any kind are for the benefit of the University, not the community.

In a time where administrators have been praised for listening to scientists, permitting on-campus activities in any capacity reads as hypocritical and subversive. In all, the nature of COVID-19 has yet to provide any predictability. Who are we to put our community in harm’s way given the risks? 

Therese Wilson is a senior in the School of Public Affairs, majoring in Political Science and Public Health and a staff columnist at The Eagle.

twilson@theegleonline.com

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