Students Reflect on Covid Protocols: Balancing Safety and Enjoyment

As the college approaches the halfway point of the spring semester, students on campus now have over five weeks of experience with the college’s Covid-19 safety regulations, leaving many to reflect on the restrictions so far. In particular, students have expressed ongoing displeasure with the administration’s lack of transparency, continued escalation in Covid surveillance and patrolling, food delivery and student socialization guidelines.

Grievances among students mainly revolve around the purpose and scope of the Covid rules. Ongoing deficiencies in administration-student conversation has contributed to rising tensions between the two bodies. In response, Dean of Students Liz Agosto and Chief Student Affairs Officer Karu Kozuma assured students that they “have worked to communicate information as early, often and clearly as possible.” 

Guillermo Rodriguez ’22 did admit that communication has improved. “It’s been centralized emails from Agosto, with the important parts of the communication bolded.”  

Despite the administration’s increased efforts to clarify the information about restrictions via signage and emails, many students still struggle to feel at ease while socializing and question how to balance safety and enjoyment on campus. 

Rodriguez noted his dissatisfaction with the strict, rule-based culture and the atmosphere of mistrust that it creates. “It was hard to feel comfortable visiting other people, because even if you weren’t really breaking a rule, the surveillance part of it made socializing feel a little bit iffy,” he said. “It’s so easy to break the line. It’s very easy for it [a small group] to evolve into a larger gathering of people.” 

In addition, Siri Palreddy ’24 indicated frustration with the constant pressure to remain six feet apart on campus. “It’s obvious that it’s not feasible all the time because you can’t always physically do that, like when you’re walking on the road and a car comes. Or in the Science Center, you can’t always be six feet apart. If you’re wearing your mask and are like three feet apart, I still think that’s safe.”

Much student distrust arises from a group hired by the college to patrol dormitories and academic and athletic buildings late in the evening: the Community Development Coordinators (CDCs). The presence of the CDCs has made students fearful that they may be caught and disciplined at any moment — similar complaints were lodged last semester, The Student reported

However, Agosto rationalized the patrolling and said that “The CDCs have responsibility for being an active presence in the residence halls in order to respond to student issues, engage with students and the Community Advisors and maintain community wellbeing and expectations. They all have offices in the residence hall spaces, serve as members of the on-call team, and engage in regular walkthroughs of the halls. They will intervene in problematic behaviors when they encounter it or if they receive a call about an issue.” 

Rodriguez has been especially concerned by the fact that the CDCs have made conversations about safe socialization more taboo. “I would like to see and know to what extent the sort of stress that comes from having CDCs come on around the dorms is really worth it. Because it’s all really sketchy. It’s like, ‘Oh I heard from these people, that the CDC busted people in some dorm,’” he said. “It’s all so gossipy.”

Palreddy is also a member of the Covid Student Task Force, a group of student representatives intended to directly convey student concerns surrounding Covid regulations to the administration. Palreddy did not indicate that CDC enforcement procedures have come up in their conversations. However, she does note that, “There are changes to be made. For example, for delivery service, we’re working on getting more options and making them more affordable for students.”

Agosto and Kozuma acknowledged recent feedback from students and explained that they have already begun implementing changes to improve safe socialization on campus. For instance, during the fall 2020 semester, Agosto and Kozuma learned that students gathered and socialized safely in the tents that were previously used as outdoor classrooms, and they decided to bring the tents back for the spring semester. 

“For this semester, we’ve outfitted more of the tents with more casual, comfortable furnishings geared towards safe social usage.”

Students have other specific changes they’d like to see made in the short term. Rodriguez specifically noted the availability of gym and music spaces. “There’s only seven stations for resistance, and now we have more athletes this semester, which means that things just get taken up immediately. And there’s only three that are fully equipped. I’m the kind of person who often exercises to destress, but working out is tough.” 

Palreddy, alternatively, referenced the challenges posed by virtual club meetings. “If you’re on the e-board of a club, it’s easy to be involved. But if you’re just a member of the club, then it definitely does not feel as [engaging]. I recognize the difficulty [for] the eboard of trying to do stuff that’s fun for people to do even during this pandemic. It’s just a little bit more difficult to connect with people when you’re on a Zoom call.”

On a positive note, both students expressed that they’ve seen less frequent risky behavior among the student body this spring. For example, Palreddy said that “this semester, at least, I’ve seen very few people who don’t have their masks on properly. And if they don’t, they just need a quick reminder.” Similarly, Rodriguez said, “I remember there was a little bit of talk about people asking folks from outside of campus to get them alcohol [last semester]. I’m happy that the alcohol program was installed pretty quickly. I think that’s a good thing.”

All in all, most students are grateful to be on campus, and remain hopeful that the students and administration can cooperate. As Palreddy puts it, “We still get to go to college and everything’s amazing. I’m very grateful for that. But there are always things that can be improved. I think that’s part of what the student task force is doing — making sure that those needs, whatever they are, are being communicated to the administration, so they can be dealt with more effectively.”

Correction: The original version of this article stated that Siri Palreddy did not indicate that grievances about the CDC have come up in conversation on the Covid Student Task Force, but the task force has in fact discussed these concerns, which was implied in Palreddy’s interview.