What is it like to go back to college for the fall semester right now?
Students enrolled at hundreds of colleges will never know.
Some smaller independent colleges will be closing for good because of the financial stress of COVID-19. The most prestigious will weather the term by making adjustments.
Harvard, for example, will permit only 40 percent of its student body to return to campus, and even for these, only online classes will be available (for full $50,000 tuition, natch).
What if these institutions are overreacting and depriving their students of the experience of campus life and in person academic courses?
We don’t want anybody to be unsafe, precautions will be a part of American life for sometime. But a story in The Federalist tells about a college that made a different choice. It is by Elle Reynolds, and the headline is “I Just Went Back to School in Person. It’s Not Scary.”
Reynolds is a Federalist intern, who is student at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va. Apparently, Patrick Henry’s administration echoed the man for whom it is named and opted for liberty—with sensible precautions. The precautions are outlined in a 20-page booklet for dealing with the COVID-threat:
On paper — specifically, on the 20-page document the college published detailing its Covid-19 response — it’s not a normal semester. Everyone’s wearing a mask, and we’re holding some classes in the basketball gym so people can sit six feet apart. Many friends who haven’t seen each other since March greet each other with an exuberant “I wish I could hug you!” and a warm smile.
All our breaks have been cut so we can finish the semester by Thanksgiving, so students won’t be traveling and potentially bringing germs back to campus. My mock trial tournaments will all be over Zoom. All the dances that are hallmarks of each season at school are canceled. Each building has a station for checking entrants’ temperature, and tables in the dining commons have been downsized and spread out.
Unlike Harvard students, however, Elle will not be deprived of the college experience:
But the things that defined my college experience long before Covid-19 haven’t changed. It’s not wearing a mask or socially distancing in class that makes me feel safe. It’s knowing I’m in a community where people put each other’s needs first, and are willing to sacrifice for each other’s safety and wellbeing.
It’s having a college president who let students quarantine at his family’s house after an increasing global case count forced us to return early from spring break overseas. It’s seeing professors, several of whom are old enough to be at a heightened risk, smile and tell us how glad they are to have us back and know they mean it wholeheartedly.
My roommate has cautiously limited her exposure to others for months, since a chronic illness means she’s considered immuno-compromised. But she expresses no fear about being on campus again. “If I wanted to live my life eliminating risks, I’d never walk out the door in the morning,” she told me over breakfast on Sunday, before going to an outdoor church service in the local park. “Life is about controlling risks and, because risks always exist, determining what things in life are worth it.”
None of us know for sure if we’ll finish the semester in person. We can’t predict how the outbreak will continue to develop across the country and in our small town sandwiched between Washington D.C. and the Shenandoah Valley.
But when I look at the way my professors, administrators, and classmates are responding to the threat of Covid-19, I see an abundance of what so many people have lost in recent months: a community in which people sacrifice for each other, instead of simply sacrificing each other. Knowing that, I couldn’t feel more secure.
What do you bet that Patrick Henry himself would be pleased at this manifestation of the American spirit coupled with common sense and respect for others?