College Covid-19 policies leave students to their own vices

By Editorial Board

Sarah Fagan

We’re four weeks into the semester, and the stakes for violating Covid-19 regulations are high: 44 students have been disciplined and 27 were sent home. As we’ve transitioned into Phase Two, boundaries that previously felt very clear-cut have become ambiguous. Many of us that remain on campus are apprehensive, wondering which lines we’ve crossed, if any, and whether or not these infractions are dire enough to get us sent home. #closecontact has made an appearance in many recent Instagram captions, as the threat of “go/snitch” remains ever-present and people feel the need to “prove their innocence.” In the face of these uncertainties, one thing is clear: while the college had a strong plan for putting regulations in place to bring us back in a healthy and safe manner, the regulations currently in place are inconsistent and unsustainable. 

Despite frequent emails from administrators with policy updates, many ambiguities and discrepancies in the Covid-19 regulations remain unaddressed. For example, the Student Health Pledge we all signed this summer stated that students in suites or small houses would be allowed to take off their masks while in their place of residence after receiving two negative Covid-19 tests; however, when new Phase Two guidelines were sent out two weeks ago, they dictated that masks must be worn at all times — even in those same shared spaces. Guidance regarding room capacity also gives pause: four singles in a random hallway be allowed one additional person each, totalling eight, so why is the maximum occupancy of a four-person suite only five?

Students are also left wondering how on- and off-campus policies align. For example, the new solitary, awkward dining hall seating only allows one person per table, and massive picnic tables outside are limited to two occupants. Yet, when students eat inside of restaurants in town, it’s not clear if they are subject to the same standards. 

A lack of clarity makes student compliance difficult, and watching 27 of our peers get sent home only ramps up those anxieties. 

Compliance with Covid-19 regulations will also be rendered unsustainable once the temperature drops. Most of our current social interactions revolve around being outdoors: picnicking with friends, walking the TAM, outdoor club meetings, going on hikes and enjoying the fall foliage. These options will no longer be viable in a few weeks. As winter draws nearer and days get shorter, loneliness often increases and social interaction becomes invaluable for mental wellness.

Given the college’s current lack of Covid-19-safe in-person activities, students will be left to their own devices, increasing the likelihood of breaking guidelines for the sake of seeing friends, as the only alternative to being left alone in their rooms. This poses a serious threat to our collective socio-emotional wellbeing, especially as we continue to navigate a worldwide pandemic and widespread social inequity. 

Those impending winter months coupled with ongoing indoor space access restrictions will also limit students’ ability to work productively or have any escape from their rooms. Providing all students with access to study spaces such as BiHall and increasing the capacity of study rooms in Davis could help mitigate these anxieties. It also ensures that students will not fall into the trap of going days on end doing work with no human contact — a reasonable risk given that so many of us take our classes online from our rooms. 

We ask that the college help set students up for success by accommodating our social and emotional needs. While we recognize that loosening restrictions comes with certain risks, we believe that it could ultimately prevent larger-risk activities from occurring down the road. 

One such example would be decreasing the amount of time it takes for student orgs to get approved to host in-person events, which would make a big difference in ensuring that students are provided with safe options to socialize with others. We also suggest that the college send out a student survey in order to gauge the types of accommodations students prioritize in order to help guide these decisions. 

 We hope the college employs the same focus that they used to bring us back to campus to keep us here. Middlebury must prioritize the health of its community — yes, we must do everything to prevent an outbreak of the virus on campus — but we must also do everything we can to make life here as livable as possible.

This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.