Learn at Your Own Risk

Miles Krein '22, Guest Writer

Dickinson and other colleges around the country face a massive decision regarding next semester: is it worth bringing students back to campus in the middle of a pandemic? Ideally, the virus situation would have subsided by now but instead the United States appears to be entering a massive third wave of infections. Bringing students back to campus clearly poses some major risks, but at the same time this course of action might be in the best interest of Dickinson and the college’s students. 

I honestly thought that we would be back on campus in the fall. Many of my friends also anticipated a return to campus. When I found out this would not be the case, I was disappointed, but I understood the decision was in the best interest for the safety of the Dickinson community. I even endorsed the decision despite my disappointment. However, after only half a semester of online classes, my mindset has changed. 

I have discovered, as have most Dickinson students, that online education is pretty awful. As confirmed by many of my friends, lacking an in-person component to our education makes paying attention to class material extremely difficult. It is harder to engage with professors and other students in an online environment and thus harder to learn. For the sake of our education, we need to make a return to campus sooner rather than later. 

I have asked almost all of my friends and peers that I share classes with about how they would feel about returning to campus in the spring. The answer is essentially unanimous: Dickinson students want to return to campus as soon as possible. Even if classes were to unfortunately be online for the second semester in a row, many of my fellow students still express an interest in returning to Carlisle. Jack Cimino said that if we were to come back to campus, “I would be able to make more social connections.” Lockdown has led to isolation for many. Returning to campus would help provide the social interaction that we all crave. 

I also get the impression that Dickinson students are well aware of the risks that come with returning to campus in the middle of a pandemic. Regarding coming back to campus, Rosey Pasco said “I understand the dangers that I am putting myself in.” This gives me hope that Dickinson will be able to keep students on campus for the entirety of the spring semester as members of the community seem to be aware of the risks and precautions that will be involved in the ordeal. 

As much as us Dickinson students have a desire to return to Carlisle, that doesn’t change the fact that the COVID-19 situation will likely not drastically change by the time January comes around. Despite a pandemic that refuses to improve, many colleges have managed to bring students back to campus for the fall without any major issues. Can Dickinson do the same? Let’s take a look at the data. 

Some colleges and universities have failed to effectively deal with the COVID-19 situation. According to the most recent data from the New York Times, larger schools such as James Madison University have had significant outbreaks of COVID-19. Specifically, JMU has had 1,527 students test positive for the virus (roughly 7% of the normal student population). Even smaller schools such as Gettysburg College have had issues bringing students back to campus; roughly 4% of the student population has tested positive for COVID-19. Clearly, there is potential for a return-to-campus plan to fail. 

However, many smaller colleges similar to the size of Dickinson have had relative success bringing students back to campus. According to the New York Times, smaller institutions such as Christopher Newport University and Franklin & Marshall College have managed to prevent the virus from spreading to less than 1% of the student population (approximately 0.4% and 0.7%, respectively). Both schools have managed to handle this situation relatively successfully while maintaining a hybrid learning format consisting of some classes being online and some classes being in-person. 

According to Daniel Vorona, a friend of mine who attends Christopher Newport University, the prime reason why the school has handled the COVID-19 situation so well is due to strict punishments for disobeying social distancing and other safety guidelines. Students who violate the guidelines are not given a second chance and are immediately removed from campus. After all, it only takes one person to start an outbreak and ruin the college experience for everyone else. 

Can Dickinson safely bring students back to campus? I believe it is possible. However, students are going to need to accept that next semester will look far different from past semesters. Based on the comments made by my peers, students are willing to accept this reality. I think a willingness to take personal responsibility for one’s actions combined with strict health and safety guidelines can make an in-person spring semester a reality.