As Lehigh approaches the third week since its initial spike in coronavirus cases across campus, resulting in an extended scale back of on-campus activities, the Lehigh community is beginning to feel that there are no “right” answers on what to do going forward.
Lehigh can either continue keeping most of campus on lockdown, or send home those who live on-campus and cancel in-person classes for the remainder of the semester — which has the potential for students to bring home the virus to their more vulnerable families.
Despite the fact that all students, mainly freshmen, living on-campus have not been formally sent home yet, as social restrictions became even more stringent during the initial phase of the scale back, so did Lehigh’s monitoring policies, resulting in a great deal of conduct cases for both off and on-campus students.
These conduct cases have begun with an interim suspension, in which the student in question must leave their on-campus residence until they are able to meet with the Office of Student Affairs for their conduct hearing. The sheer notion that the student must leave campus amidst an outbreak prior to resolving the case and risk hurting their families in the process does not seem to be the most effective or considerate strategy.
This is not to say that every single conduct case has been held due to minor acts. There have been issues regarding off-campus activities not up to par with social distancing guidelines. Students must take responsibility, too.
No matter how you spin it, there’s no good way to go about handling this. Had Lehigh announced a concrete testing plan from the beginning of the semester onward, there is a possibility that most of these difficult circumstances could’ve been mitigated had the school taken a team stance. But given their inability to create an effective plan and communicate it clearly to the community, it creates a students vs. administration mindset rather than one of we’re all in this together.
Students and their families are struggling enough to even stay afloat throughout the pandemic, case numbers at Lehigh aside. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be for everyone involved and risk hurting more people than necessary in the process.
As we seem to say every single week, mindset starts at the top. Students are meant to follow by example in how administrators are choosing to handle COVID-19 on Lehigh’s campus. For the first six weeks of the semester, there were COVID related conduct cases but with much less severe consequences.
Lehigh cannot only start to crack down on their COVID-19 Social Contract, which all students living on- and off-campus signed prior to coming back to Bethlehem in August, halfway through the semester when cases are on the rise. The precedent needed to be set from the beginning, which quite frankly did not happen given the resulting outbreak.
What is even more unfortunate is that a majority of the cases Lehigh has seen during the spike have stemmed from off-campus residences due to off-campus activities. While no one is perfect and when these guidelines are not completely second nature given the dynamics of the pandemic, Lehigh is punishing the wrong people.
It’s not the kids who went to class, masked and ready to learn that caused this.
Additionally, the current freshman class have arguably undergone the most change and have had the least sense of stability since the pandemic first struck in March.
Not only are they being forced to adjust to college — an already rattling phase of life without a pandemic — in uncomfortable and stringent circumstances, but they were forced to say goodbye to their lasts of high school without a proper exit. Their last days of classes, their last sports games, their last school dances and their last shared times in school with friends were all stripped from them without a formal graduation ceremony.
Being able to attend class, go to the library and dining halls and enjoy the few elements of Lehigh that were still quasi-normal were the only true aspects of college they were getting to experience, and they are being disproportionately impacted by a problem that they did not even cause. They’re the ones facing the on-campus restrictions the most.
And yet, the same people who arguably have lost the most already stand to lose the most as cases spike. We feel for those who are feeling the disproportionate impacts while off-campus upperclassmen can comfortably remain at their Bethlehem location no matter whether Lehigh shifts entirely remote for the rest of the semester.
Yet due to a lack in routine testing and poor communication, the situation is frustrating and feels like it could have been handled better. It’s almost impressive it took six weeks for it to present itself. Rather than creating Instagram stories to announce new ever-changing policies, the administration has a duty to tell us the truth and keep us informed. If you want the same respect and practices to be held by your own student body, you have to hold yourself to the same standards to set the tone campus-wide.