A Letter to the Administration: Loosen Covid Rules

As the college tightens Covid restrictions, Sophia Sodney '24 asks the administration to consider the mental and emotional risks that come with increased public health protocols. She argues that, given the vaccine, the benefits of a return to relative normalcy outweigh the risk of Covid infection.

Dear Amherst College administrators,

I am a sophomore at Amherst this year. I am writing to you regarding the college’s Covid restrictions for on-campus students this year.

The recent emails outlining proposed plans and policies for the beginning this year filled me with anxiety, anger, and confusion. After living on campus under last year’s many restrictions and seeing the enormous improvements in the state of the pandemic over the summer, I was expecting to finally hear that I would be able to experience a normal college year. However, what I read sounded like the beginning of quite the opposite.

The overall tone of these emails was fear. Beyond the fear-inducing precautions, there was little to no information about how the college was going to try to make this year more manageable and for students who are so clearly suffering under the past and now current restrictions.

I write this letter to ask that the college relax many of the serious Covid rules and allow students to have the college experience they have been looking forward to since they came to Amherst.

I understand the need for certain precautionary measures. For instance, masking is necessary in classrooms, since attending class is not a choice and is thus the most likely place for interactions between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Precautions for interactions with staff who might be older or less healthy than a college student are also necessary to ensure that the non-student members of our community are safe. Additionally, there are some professors that are at higher risk for Covid, and we need to do our part to protect them.

However, I believe that any student Covid rules beyond masking in classrooms would not only be unnecessary, but unfair, unhealthy and damaging to our wellbeing as students.

The rules Amherst put in place last year took an incredible mental, emotional, developmental and physical toll on me and every other on-campus student I have spoken to. We were forced to socially isolate ourselves in every way, despite the relative safety of the Amherst Covid bubble. As a result, many students (myself included) experienced depressive states like never before. We were unable to attend in-person classes, and the few classes that were in-person felt distant. The staff hired by the school, such as the CDC’s, CSA’s etc., rudely and unfairly enforced the extreme rules, establishing a relationship of fear and power between the students and administration. By the end of my first year, I was counting down the days until I could leave because I felt so incredibly stuck and alone in a place where I should’ve felt happy and at home.

There were times when other students and I tried to raise our voices and discuss the severity of the restrictions with the school’s administration, but in all instances, we felt ignored, insignificant and unheard in their eyes. It felt like we were simply data points to be shuffled around in order to prove that Amherst had the “most Covid-safe” campus to the rest of the observing world.

I fully understand that a lot was unknown and uncertain about the coronavirus last year. Numbers were spiking suddenly, hospitals were suffering and there was no known vaccine or treatment. As a result, I can see how the college’s extreme restrictions were an attempt to protect our campus the safest. However, while the restrictions might’ve been ensuring our safety from the virus, they put us at risk for numerous other issues, such as mental instability, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and much more. That fact didn’t seem to matter to the college last year when I and other students voiced this.

However, that was nearly four months ago. Now, we know much more about how Covid affects people like Amherst students. Most importantly, in August, we retrn to a campus where every student who can physically be vaccinated will be fully vaccinated.

Alone, the fact that Amherst’s student body is made up almost entirely of young adults ages 18-23 means that we are a community that is already at low risk of developing severe Covid symptoms. Combined with the fact that we will now all be fully vaccinated and tested twice a week, that means that most students on our campus will now be at an especially, and uniquely, low risk for being hospitalized or dying from Covid. Additionally, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has mandated vaccines for all of their students, and all of the counties surrounding Amherst have the majority of their population fully vaccinated.

When it comes to Amherst’s role in protecting students, ensuring we don't become dangerously ill from Covid should be the college’s top priority, not preventing infection entirely, as the benefit of that would be much less than the mental risks posed by strict Covid rules. Remember, we are all human, which means we get sick and recover all the time. We just need to make sure we are safe when we do get sick, which is exactly what the vaccine is proven to do, if not prevent illness entirely.

Even with the new Delta variant of the coronavirus, there is significant evidence that the Covid vaccines are effective against this variant too.

Additionally, in reference to a CDC report published on Aug. 5, Dr. Anthony Fauci stated that breakthrough infections, hospitalizations and deaths in vaccinated people in the U.S. are happening at a “percentage of 0.01 or less.” He also discussed the unlikelihood of vaccinated people developing serious cases of Covid, stating, “the bottom line is [breakthrough infections] are rare, and they... unusually result in hospitalization or death.” Dr. Amesh Adalija, a scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said “Reinstituting mask orders — particularly among fully vaccinated — won’t have much impact overall.”

This vaccine will protect our Amherst college community. However, the college seems to have no trust in it. We simply can’t cower in fear anymore. We need to live our lives again. There are things that we face in everyday life that carry significantly more risk than there is for vaccinated students to get seriously sick from Covid. We need to start putting our risk in perspective before you continue to increase your students' risk for things that actually pose a significant threat to our lives.  

Placing strict restrictions on student life again this year will certainly be more harmful to students’ well being than helpful. The mask mandates in non-classroom spaces, limits on gathering sizes, a closed campus, limited social opportunities, minimal classroom interactions and all of the other restrictions we faced last year will be insignificant compared to the risk they will pose to our student body. Amherst will be putting us at risk of depression, anxiety and countless other issues as severe as suicide.

We are young adults. We need to interact with others and live in a space where we aren’t told to be afraid of everyone around us. I know that you, the administration, have our best interests at heart — that is why I am asking you, please give us this opportunity. Stop the restrictions at mandating masking in classrooms. We all deserve it.


Sophia Sondey