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On Sept. 23rd, North Carolina State University was one of the first of the UNC System schools to address the anxiety-inducing question that had been looming since outbreaks of COVID-19 forced most students off campus weeks earlier:
What happens in the spring?
In an email, the school announced to students that they would be welcoming them back into on-campus housing for the spring 2021 semester. The email requested that students fill out a form indicating their housing plans for the next semester by the following week.
The announcement left students, who were in the middle of their first round of midterm exams, with a tough decision on a tight deadline. Here, three NC State freshmen give their thoughts as they anticipate their next-semester plans.
Kobrin has been back at home with his parents since late August, being part of the initial exodus of students off campus.
“It seemed like the normal college experience and then it kind of just all went downhill,” he said of his short-lived experience. “I know the university started restricting stuff about a week-and-a-half in, then it spiraled down from there.”
Kobrin ultimately decided that he would move back on campus for the spring.
“They’re saying that they have a lot of plans in place and that they have restrictions set up, and based on how other colleges have gone I was willing to take the risk.”
When asked what NC State would have to do differently to avoid a similar situation to the fall semester, he responded,
“Honestly, spend more money. I think you look at the successful colleges… the ones that are doing well are the ones that put money up front to test everyone on a fairly consistent basis to make sure their campus was more locked down in a way, and I think if State does that effort up front, things will be fine.”
Kobrin believes that if NC State is to bring students back, they cannot panic if cases begin to rise.
“Obviously when you have a big college you’re going to have cases, and I think they also really need to make the commitment to power through,” he said. “Which sounds bad, I guess, up front, but I think it’s safer for the students in the long run.”
Petrykowski, like Kobrin, has spent the past six weeks at home. She is less sure of her plans for the spring, however.
“I’m actually genuinely surprised they are letting us come back to campus next semester, because I don’t really see what’s changed,” she said.
On the housing form, Petrykowsi responded that she was interested in on-campus housing for the spring, but she is not committed to anything yet.
“They sent out a form telling us that they would have us house individually, there would be no roommates, which I think is a nice gesture but I don’t know if it really tackles the real problem, which I believe is the parties,” she said.
Petrykowski, who lived in the university’s honor college housing, said she never participated in, nor saw, large social gatherings taking place while on campus, yet she felt the consequences of other students’ actions just the same.
“I think the administration has a duty to the students that are following the rules to deal with those that aren’t,” she said. “But at the same time we’re all adults, we all have a family that could be affected by this, so (the responsibility belongs to) both.”
While most students were being sent back to their hometowns, Chris Payne stayed put.
He was able to fill out a Special Circumstance Housing Special Request Form that allowed him to stay on campus through the fall semester. However, Payne didn’t think he was going to even have the chance to come back after the semester ended.
“I figured they would send everyone home for Christmas and Thanksgiving and then just close down campus completely, so I was kind of surprised when they said they were going to have spring housing,” he said.
Payne is skeptical that bringing students back will end any differently than it did the first time.
“I kind of think it’ll be the same result,” he said. “Everybody is going to come back and they’ll send everybody back home, because they can’t really control what people are doing so the students are just going to go socialize and spread the virus again.”
Payne says drastic measures must be taken to avoid a repeat of the fall semester, starting with a crackdown on the off-campus gatherings.
“Close down Greek life, that’s the main thing,” he said. “The first big things, the first clusters, all came from the Greek Village and it's because they’re hosting parties, having events, and everyone’s showing up and spreading the virus all around campus.”
Payne was right in his assessment that the first clusters began with off-campus parties and Greek life events.
On August 18th, the first cluster reported to students was at an off-campus residence that was known to have hosted a party less than two weeks prior. The following day, two clusters from sororities at Greek Village were reported.
Of the 27 total clusters reported by NC State, ten were connected with Greek life and an additional nine were from off-campus residences.
In the Sept. 23 email about spring housing, Chancellor Randy Woodson ensured that the university would take greater care to enforce social distancing rules.
“Moving forward, NC State will more aggressively enforce violations of our community standards and state mandates on and off campus, by students and employees, in order to keep our community safe and well.”
Additional steps being taken include shifting to single-occupancy dorm rooms, increasing capacity for quarantine and isolation dorms, and enhancing testing and contract-tracing capabilities.
UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University, both large UNC System schools with similar COVID-19 case numbers to State, revealed similar plans to bring students back to campus next year.
What remains to be seen, however, is how well those schools will be able to contain the virus in their second shot at a return to quasi-normalcy. ●
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