It isn’t easy to determine whether students follow social distancing protocol by the overwhelming amount of maskless Instagram posts and Snapchat stories. Socially-starved college students returned to campuses nationwide after living at home for almost half of the year. Even though colleges have implemented safety measures to limit in-person interaction on-campus, administrations have little control over what students do behind closed doors. Still, young people are quickly blamed for new outbreaks despite having little control over the logistics of school reopenings.
College is a time filled with new friends and new experiences. The social aspect is nearly as important as the academics, and for some, even more so. During their college career, most students will live away from home for the first time and enjoy the newfound freedom that accompanies it. Except, the pandemic has changed everything. A place that used to represent freedom now mimics the unyielding watchfulness of a strict parent. Students must sign physical or verbal agreements on most campuses stating they will limit their social interactions and social distance. However, college students hardly have the reputation of being rule followers or adhering to authority figures’ demands.
Universities decided to open campuses this fall in the hopes of returning to some variation of normal. The not so subtle hand of national and local politicians and the possible financial impact of starting the year online doubtlessly had an enormous impact on these decisions. Although universities boast reopening for their students, it is important to realize that the recession might have made it economically impossible for some universities to continue with virtual learning. Despite universities having had the final say, students assume all of the risks of living on campus during a pandemic when signing updated housing agreements.
TU students were required to sign a COVID-19 acknowledgment form and assume their voluntary actions’ possible risks. The agreement protects the university from being liable for positive cases and any severe effects. This opens the question of whether there is too much pressure on students to stop the spread. Universities were aware of how desperate students were to return to campus and possibly took advantage of that while avoiding any responsibility.
Students were kept from social interaction for so long that putting them in an environment where they have to decide between social distancing and socializing is so tempting that most will probably choose the latter at some point. The assumption of risk by students is not likely to impact their willingness to social distance or not. This makes for a budding tension between students who follow distancing protocols and those who do not. Students who regularly socialize and attend large gatherings increase the risk for all students and negate the sacrifices others make when social distancing.
On top of this, there is interpersonal policing among students within the same social circle. Students are asked and encouraged to report parties to the administration, which can create a toxic environment on campus. When students are pitted against each other, campuses become polarized in a time that requires a collective effort.
While many, if not most, students are properly social distancing, there are an overwhelming number of headlines describing college students’ carelessness. Any outbreak on campus that follows a large party is covered in the news. Journalists practically scold students as the sole reason for outbreaks on campuses and college towns when universities knew these risks and inevitable outcomes yet opened campuses anyways.