By John P. Crocetti
When I initially opened Saint Vincent College’s Health and Safety Plan last July, I was pleased. The first sentence filled me with insurmountable joy: the “face-to-face instruction and residential living” would return for the 2020-2021 academic year. Quickly reading further, dissatisfaction settled in as I read aloud the statement regarding the “neighborhood” restrictions for visitation. It felt bittersweet knowing that returning to Saint Vincent would be joyous but also a letdown. Having no residence hall visitation and not allowing students to cross between neighborhoods instilled disappointment in our hearts. A commuter friend anonymously expressed her disappointment like this:
“I feel like SVC always says how they’re all about community and inclusion for commuters, but this semester, my neighborhood is my parents. I’ve spent much more time at home this semester, leaving me more anxious and generally sad because I see the things my friends are experiencing and doing on campus. I always feel out of place and when my friends go back to their rooms. I feel like these restrictions completely segregate commuters and leave us feeling unwanted on campus when we are just as much a part of campus as every resident student.”
COVID-19 is very real to me. Thankfully, I have not lost anyone personally to the virus. But I live with a high-risk individual and have dealt personally with knowing individuals who have contracted the virus. I found that the plan provided some excellent rules to keep students’ heath a priority. Face masks, social distancing and heightening cleaning procedures have proven effective. All of these are fantastic ways to prevent the spread! But I’m surprised that students weren’t tested prior to returning. Schools such as West Virginia University, Pennsylvania State University, Carnegie Mellon University and even our sister school, Seton Hill University, required testing before allowing students to return to campus for the fall 2020 semester.
Another concern: dining. Take-out options from the cafeteria are an excellent idea! But students who take advantage of this option are often left hungry when doing quick-pickup from the cafeteria. Portion sizes aren’t sufficient. Students also can’t choose which dishes to get when ordering the daily entree. A positive change to to-go order meals in the future would be the ability to choose and select dishes from the main dish line and not have a pre-selected menu.
While food is a significant concern, there is another more internal battle that is a significant threat to students. When speaking to students on their mental health during these times, common answers include feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression. When viewing the adjusted calendar, I, along with others, was disheartened by the decision to cut breaks for the fall semester as well as the elimination of spring break. While I understand the attempt to mitigate travel, does the college not realize that students take trips home and other places every weekend? A recent administration email even said: “An analysis of the Saint Vincent
positive cases so far this semester shows that 80% had some off-campus activity listed as a possible transmission factor.” While students understand the college's reasoning for eliminating breaks, the college should recognize that students are emotionally and physically drained.
With the current lack of breaks increasing "burn-out," stress and more, this is a time where students need to depend on their friends more than ever before. However, even that has become a challenge due to the current housing system. Saint Vincent is a family. The inability to break away from “neighborhoods” has put a damper on friendships and social interaction. I especially have a heavy heart for the freshmen. Freshman year is the time for making new friends and connections that last throughout your college years and for the rest of your life. Some of my best friends had come from my pod and others when I was a freshman.
For the spring semester, Saint Vincent has the opportunity to foster more social interaction while following proper guidelines. Perhaps students could choose and list a certain number of friends/students they would like to be able to have visit their dorm room. These chosen names would be filed and in writing, allowing proper contact tracing. It would be up to the institution as to how many individuals could be present in a room at a time. Yes, some students might not follow their lists and invite other students over. But does the college not know that students have done so already in the fall? A student who wants to break the rules will do so regardless. It is the students like myself and others who have followed all of the regulations that Saint Vincent has put forward who bear the burden of the “neighborhood” policy.
Saint Vincent College has done a great job mitigating the transmission of the virus. But I fear that if the current rules for visitation and breaks continue, students’ mental health will decline further. I urge each of you to write a letter to school officials expressing concerns or praise about the college’s plans to fight COVID-19. Thank you for listening.
Opinions expressed by outside contributors do not necessarily represent the views of The Review or any of its employees.