How Colleges are Being Affected by COVID-19

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Amelia Mendes, Co-Editor-in-Chief

      Our cap and gowns now sit carefully folded and sealed in plastic bags, lying in the administration office. Caps and gowns that we have envisioned ourselves wearing our entire young adult lives; symbols of achievement, adulthood, our battle gear enabling us to go out and claim this world as our own. Our prom dresses, purchased with joy and enthusiasm, now hang solemnly in our closets, disappointed by the canceled celebrations. Dresses that would have danced, laughed and sparkled in pictures posted the morning after. Dresses that have now been replaced by intimidating masks and gloves. Masks that hide nothing but festering anxiety. Masks that instill the fear and reality of a pandemic that, to date, has taken the lives of 32,823 Americans and 154,350 worldwide. The loss of graduations, proms, college acceptance celebrations dwarfed by the deadly “silent enemy”. For those of us untouched and healthy, the threat seems surreal. 

      The Coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the way we live in ways that we wouldn’t have fathomed only a few months ago. Having once been unphased while attending a school with thousands of students every day, now we are cautious if someone is within six feet of us during one of our few trips to the grocery store. In a new existence where we find ourselves constantly confined, we long for the day when normalcy is restored. For our student body seniors, this was an important time in our lives, in the sense that we would now have been preparing for the transition from high school to college.

    We should, of course, be incredibly grateful that our immediate environment is not being as heavily hit by the virus, unlike New York, New Orleans, and Detroit. Nevertheless, as seniors, we cannot help but feel a sense of loss in how, unlike the other graduating classes that came before us, we will not enjoy the same celebratory traditions to commemorate our final year of high school, providing us with closure for this chapter in our young lives. We’ve lost our prom. There’s a very good chance we will lose our graduation ceremony. No spirit week, no senior week, no more off-campus lunches with friends. Our high school careers have ended like a firecracker in the rain, anticlimactically. 

    As if this couldn’t be more disappointing, now the big question as to how our college careers will begin precariously hangs in the balance. Will we begin our college lives online from our bedrooms? If we do get to actually attend class, will the dorms be open? If not, what does this mean for students who do not live nearby and can’t commute? If we do go virtual, does this mean we don’t have to pay for dorm costs? Should we even bother looking for a roommate? 

     Well, we can take refuge in the fact that colleges are going to want to open their doors (and dorms) as soon as possible, but are nevertheless responsible for taking all of the safety precautions necessary to reach that point. Universities primarily benefit from incoming freshmen’s room and board costs, which often outweigh the tuition itself. If they do not make the dorms safe and available, they will lose a significant amount of funding. Due to the Coronavirus, it has already been reported that foreign student enrollment is at an all time low and many US high school seniors are opting to take a gap year until the pandemic situation is resolved. Loss of funding as a result of the cancellation of all University sporting events have left many university coffers seriously depleted. Many universities have been forced to lay off professors. There is still confusion regarding how/if current college freshmen are being reimbursed for their room and board payments, which is being determined by colleges individually at varying degrees. As expected, many colleges are simply not refunding students because they can’t afford to. Although this is disconcerting for students, we can’t wholeheartedly say that the current circumstances could have been anticipated.

So if the universities indeed do want to open as soon as possible, what will be the steps necessary for them to confidently do so? Well, it naturally depends on the progression of the virus and the search for a vaccine in the weeks and months ahead. The ideal scenario would be that an effective vaccine is mass produced in the near future and simply becomes another health requirement for college students. The hope is that the intensity of the virus significantly subsides and fails to mutate into a virus even more resistant to treatment.

   The fear that accompanies the uncertainty regarding what awaits us in the fall can be somewhat all consuming. We must remember that the situation is fundamentally not within our control, aside from continuing to adhere to social distancing protocol. Therefore, regardless of what happens, we must simply take on the task of making the best of a situation and be thankful that our circumstances are not as dire as those of others, whose lives have been more than just inconvenienced by the virus. So, as our cap and gowns continue to anxiously wait to be worn, we must have faith that our lives will indeed inevitably return to normal, and that when they do, we will be more than ready to venture out into our world with no less of a passionate desire to make it better, after the rude awakening which forced us to relinquish, adapt and mature. The COVID generation, although off to a rocky start, nevertheless has the potential to be remarkable and stronger than ever.