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Columns, Opinions

Ruzicka ’21: Return to Campus? Better Decide Quickly

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, November 3, 2020

On Oct. 29, 2020, President Christina Paxson P’19 sent an email announcing that the University is planning to welcome back the entire undergraduate community to campus for the spring 2021 semester. It was a shock to receive this information so far in advance of next semester, but even more shocking was the date by which students are required to decide whether they will be returning to campus and need housing accommodations through the University. All students must submit the Spring 2021 Location of Study Form no later than 11:59 PM EST on Sunday, Nov. 8. Not only does this give students barely more than a week to make a decision about their location for next semester, but it also forces students to devote precious time and emotional energy to this issue in the thick of midterm season and during one of the most pivotal presidential elections of our lifetime.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University has repeatedly claimed to prioritize the mental and physical health of students, creating the Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force, instituting the Brown Takes Care campaign and expressing various sympathies in emails for the stress that students are currently under. However, its continued disregard for the time students need to make important decisions like their location of study contradicts the University’s commitment to the health of students.

This most recent requirement for students to decide their location of study in about a week’s time mirrors the timeline that the University gave for students to declare their location of study for fall 2020. On July 7, 2020, students were asked to complete a location of study form for the fall by July 15. Furthermore, after postponing the beginning of an in-person fall semester on Aug. 11, 2020, the administration emailed students on Sept. 10 to notify them that move-in for undergraduates would begin on Sept. 18. That gave students just one week to not only decide if they would go back, but also to make travel and moving arrangements. All University students had just started taking classes and shopping period was in full swing, yet the administration didn’t bat an eye at forcing students to rush a decision that quite literally determined their health and safety for the next three months.

The same insensitivity that University administrators displayed during the aforementioned situations is again in full view right now as students are faced with choosing their location of study for next semester. But whether they will reside near College Hill or elsewhere isn’t the only thing on undergraduates’ minds. It is currently the eighth week of the semester. In total, the semester is about thirteen weeks long, including shopping period, reading period and finals week, which means that the eighth week is over halfway through the semester — peak midterm season. Many courses use part of the middle of the semester (for this semester, weeks six through eight) to assign cumulative evaluations like papers, projects and exams. The stress of assessments is at the forefront of students’ minds and the University just dumped a whole new set of stressors into the mix by forcing students to make a decision about their location of study on such a tight timeline.

Beyond the anxiety of midterms, we are in the middle of a presidential election that will determine the course of American history for years to come. Though voting officially ended on Nov. 3, it will likely be at least a week before all mail-in and absentee votes are counted. Furthermore, the threat of post-election violence looms large in many students’ home communities as well as in Providence. Some students, especially those who are part of groups that are more often targeted by violence like people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, may not even have the mental and emotional energy to tackle anything beyond the results of the presidential election, let alone homework, midterms and now the essential decision about where they will spend the spring 2021 semester.

In short, the University administration’s insistence that students make integral decisions on compressed timelines contradicts their health and wellness messaging by adding to the stress and anxiety that students are already struggling to manage. The University should be giving students a bare minimum of three weeks so that they can weigh their options, coordinate with peers, consult parents and advisors and make housing and travel arrangements. Choosing where to spend a semester of college may seem trivial to President Paxson and other administrators, but for students, it determines whom they will interact with, what resources they will have access to, how much freedom they will have and much more. Given the University’s lack of understanding and flexibility with students’ situations, it can only be concluded that the University’s “prioritization” of student health is a farce and all they want is to know how many bodies they’ll have to accommodate in the dorms in January.

Emilia Ruzicka ’21 can be reached at emilia_ruzicka@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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