By Emma Campbell
On Friday, Oct. 16, the Washington College Contingency Planning Group announced via email that all students would be permitted to live on campus for the spring 2020 semester. This announcement followed the contingency plan released on Oct. 5, which stated that only about 450 students would be allowed campus housing this spring.
The most recent announcement thanked parents and students for offering input that led to their decision to “revisit the number of students who can be housed safely on campus.”
“There is nothing more important than the health and safety of our community…and we will work to improve our messaging to reflect that deep commitment…we have re-evaluated our housing model and determined that we can accommodate all students who wish to live on campus during the spring,” the email said.
The changes made to the original plan were influenced by the number of complaints issued by the WC community. While some students had come to terms with the disappointment, others were willing to push for the College to reconsider.
Junior and President of the Class of 2022 Mason Drummey said that while he was frustrated by what he referred to as “the 450-student plan,” he was concerned that WC may go back on their promise to allow all students to return.
“Personally, my own family decided that they’d rather me transfer to a school operating in person than stay at WAC, and I’m sure many other families were having the same discussions,” Drummey said. “I and many other students were happy to hear of the decision to accommodate all students on campus next semester, and I really hope the school upholds that decision.”
It makes sense to doubt WC’s ability to keep their word in a time of global uncertainty. Though every college and university were unprepared for a pandemic, it’s hard for students not to resent the fickleness of WC’s CPG. Despite the pressure they must feel to release a plan as soon as possible, the committee should spend more time deliberating before they announce a decision that instills false hope.
Senior and Student Government Association President Elizabeth Lilly said the decision to allow all students back on campus in the spring was multi-faceted.
“The input from the school health center and the county health board guide a lot of [the CPG’s] frameworks,” Lilly said. “Health and safety is still the number one priority for both the school and town so we’re sort of at the mercy of what they know best. The decision for academic instruction to be online…was driven primarily by the faculty…The planning for how many students to come back was planned around the framework imposed by the county health board…but the push to increase campus capacity came from the student perspective.”
The spring contingency plan sounds good enough on paper. Every student will live in a single room and WC will enforce a strict mask and social distancing mandate. Students are already gearing up to return to some semblance of normalcy, not wanting to consider the possibility that their excitement may be premature.
“I know some students have their misgivings about the school’s motives,” Drummey said. “There is a general worry that the school is going to simply reverse their decision close to the start of the semester like they did in the fall…In theory, the school could bring us back, and a week later, send us home again, and our food and housing bill would remain.”
In addition to the concern over not being refunded for food and housing prices, some students have been vocal about the pandemic’s damage to their mental health. The CPG should consider the mental trauma that may be inflicted on students who are offered an escape from isolation, only to have that prospective solace snatched away if plans are once again altered.
“I’m definitely a little concerned about the situation,” Lilly said. “Sometimes I worry that we’ll see a repeat of the summer and this semester, but I know the school is much better suited now with more information and more thorough preparation than we would have been had students returned in the fall.”
WC is a close-knit community struggling with the heartbreak of separation. While the spring contingency plan gives us something to aspire to, it also may be disillusioning. We must brave this uncertainty together, while remaining optimistic that our return to campus will be sooner than we think.
“With an impending second wave of the coronavirus across the nation coupled with flu season, I don’t think anyone should get too excited just yet,” Lilly said. “But after a particularly difficult semester, I don’t blame anyone for holding onto a little bit of hope.”
Featured Photo caption: Washington College announced that only juniors and seniors would be permitted to live in the Western Shore dorms during this spring 2020 semester. Photo by Izze Rios.