As students return to their college campuses this fall, they face an alternate reality starkly different from any they’ve known before.
While many students hoped to turn to campus as a place of refuge — an anchor in the eye of the storm that is 2020 — they have instead found a dystopia.
Local governments and businesses nationwide have implemented strict regulations in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but none have been so harsh as those established on college campuses.
At most schools, students are required to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth anywhere outside their dorm room — even the hallway of their dorm.
They are required to download apps or answer surveys for “contact tracing,” a means for the university to track students’ movements and potential exposure to the virus.
They must stand six feet apart from any other individual at all times (don’t ask what you’re supposed to do about your roommate!) and are prohibited from attending any sort of gathering with other students on or off campus.
While these measures seem drastic on their own, many universities have gone overboard, encroaching on student privacy.
For example, Tulane University has encouraged students to call the local police department if they witness any “problematic behavior” from their peers failing to adhere to the school’s COVID-19 guidelines.
Oakland University recently announced students living on campus would be required to wear a personal health device called the “BioButton,” which constantly tracks one’s health vitals, from temperature to heart rate, and reports the data back to the university.
The announcement prompted an immediate outcry from students, who circulated a petition that quickly gained support. This shifted the university’s requirement to simply an “encouragement” for use of the device on campus.
The University of Tennessee has even declared that students, faculty and staff will all be required to receive both the influenza vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine, as soon as both become available, to maintain their admission to the University.
Based on all these new requirements, it seems that student choice and privacy are values that have been completely removed from the 2020 collegiate experience.
Despite being confronted by student and family backlash, these universities aren’t backing down. They’re digging their heels deeper into their newly-constructed Orwellian dystopia.
Joyce McConnell, the president of Colorado State University, recently sent out an email to students claiming their “political” opinions against following new university guidelines related to COVID-19 will not be accepted. Moreover, should students become infected with the virus, those failing to follow guidelines “will be responsible for the death of others.”
Screenshots of the circulated email show CSU demanding students remain six feet apart at all times and not attend any gathering with more than 10 people — on or off campus. Students who fail to adhere to these virtually unachievable guidelines risk expulsion from the university, according to the email.
This is a massive violation of students’ First Amendment rights of assembly, making this requirement unconstitutional at best.
The email states, “We cannot accept your political views as an excuse for non-compliance with the state, county, and university rules.”
Essentially, if students hold a “political” belief that they should be allowed to worship freely, gather in assembly with others or speak their mind against any of these guidelines, they risk permanent expulsion from the campus they are supposed to be calling home.
This raises the question: When did constitutional rights become obsolete in the heart of our nation?
Young Americans are facing the brutal reality of this pandemic just as much as anyone else. Job loss among young adults exceeded that of any other demographic in May, according to Pew Research Center. “The unemployment rate among young adults ages 16 to 24 (25.3%) exceeded the rate among other workers…more than double the rate among workers 35 and older,” Pew found.
We have faced a spike in mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, increased substance use and elevated ideation of suicide at a disproportionately worse rate to other demographics. We’ve been prevented from advancing our studies and careers to the fullest extent and have lacked a sense of community for several months.
The last thing young Americans deserve to face is a harsher, stricter and even more dystopian reality on their college campuses; 2020 has already given them enough of that. However, here we find ourselves, grappling with how to return to normal amid chaos on the campuses we call home.
It’s time for America’s universities to listen to the needs of their students rather than barking orders that may make them sound prepared to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic but in reality are likely just causing more harm.
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