Editorial: Clarification is needed regarding University’s COVID-19 policies
This past year and semester, marked in particular by a global pandemic, have been unlike any other in the University’s history. To best balance both the health and safety of the community and ensuring a lively, memorable academic year for its students, the University has instituted a number of new protocols. These policies are influenced by advice from the Centers for Disease Control, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and state law regarding mask mandates, vaccinations and capacity restrictions.
Put into effect at the start of the fall semester, the policies were complemented by a return to mostly in-person activities. They include testing requirements for all students every 96 hours, quarantine policies and a rolling back of distancing requirements for vaccinated individuals, including in classrooms and the dining halls.
This board applauds the University, alongside each and every member of the community, for everything they have done to ensure both a healthy and fun semester amid such difficult and uncertain times. However, this board notes that both within these policies and in how students are observing the rules themselves, there is need for improvement.
One such area that has been observed by members of this board and in the larger community is a lack of social distancing when possible in classrooms and dining halls. Here, students and others fail to wear masks when required, such as when taking food at the dining halls and, at times, taking them off while speaking in classrooms, defeating their very purpose. Masking requirements are unclear. For example, what should a student do if asked by a professor to remove their mask to speak in class? For the safety of all students, faculty and staff, this board strongly urges the University to clarify COVID-19 policies.
Yet, within many of the in-person classes themselves, there is little to no accommodation for students who wish to attend class remotely; those who may be quarantined or uncomfortable coming to a larger, more densely populated space are often excluded from meaningfully participating and/or even attending. To best mitigate the risk of a possible outbreak on campus, the University and its community need to foster a culture that supports those who need or prefer to stay home, and the way this is best accomplished is through support from professors such as having an option to attend class over Zoom, an option to watch class recordings and an excused absence policy for students in quarantine.
Additionally, this board has observed that many of the causes of the above problems stem from a disorganized dissemination of the University’s official pandemic policies. There is simply an overload of emails regarding nearly every aspect of the pandemic policies on campus, which can lead to uncertainty and confusion. The University would do well to better streamline the emails regarding different aspects of said policies to best ensure that community members do their part to be as safe as possible.