Who’s in the driver’s seat?: UConn’s lack of a reopening plan leaves us scared shitless

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It didn’t take long for things to start going south on Storrs campus. Just hours after move-in day began, (unconfirmed) reports were already trickling in on social media of large off-campus and in-dorm parties. In the past days, a number of emails, videos and firsthand accounts have leaked online of new cases springing up across campus. At time of writing, the University of Connecticut has confirmed 17 residential cases, with an additional three among commuter students. Knowing what we know about the large gatherings which have been taking place on- and off-campus, we can expect this number to rise precipitously in coming days. 

While UConn has been strong in its decision to kick out partiers in one circumstance, its response to general concerns over partying and potential COVID-19 outbreaks has been…lackluster, to say the least. The Daily Campus and greater UConn community have had to piece together anonymous sources, leaked email screenshots and reddit posts to construct a shaky outline of public health on campus. Many are afraid of what’s to come, of the spread of this disease and UConn’s insistence on ignoring the social and emotional needs of students. There is a great deal of uncertainty, and students are tense. 

As many could have guessed, the administration has put many students in an impossibly precarious position. They’ve promised on-campus housing until Thanksgiving, despite it being quite clear that COVID-19 will probably not be successfully contained with thousands of students on campus. Now, students are caught in the middle, hopeful that they will be able to have a limited on-campus experience yet increasingly worried they could be sent back home on a dime to unstable or otherwise dangerous situations. Campus is limited, even beyond the diminished social experience. Many resources, needed now more than ever, are still severely lacking. Despite protests and student organizing by groups like the Mental Health Coalition and UConn Collaborative Organizing, mental health services on campus are still underfunded, kneecapping the amount and diversity of their care. Enforcement of COVID-19 rules largely falls on resident assistants underpaid for the importance they have in keeping our community safe. The social events sanctioned by the university are appreciated for what they are, but they miss the mark on what students really feel they are missing in their college experience this year.

As many community members have already established, the administration has promised housing and essential life resources to thousands of students on-campus and yet will inevitably consider their cancellation if they aren’t already. We must keep in mind this revenue-driven injustice and the difficult task of protecting the human rights of everyone if they are sent home.

As social media confirms, there are unequivocally many students on campus acting with reckless selfishness regarding safety regulations, and these students should be shamed for endangering the campus’s reopening and, much more gravely, thousands of lives. The Daily Campus believes we should apply greater scrutiny, however, to the administration, the group with power to safeguard the community in some way at this time. We have no one to blame for creating this environment except the administration and the university’s need for student housing and meal plan fees.

The UConn administration must make available, updated and transparent all relevant information on the situation of public health on campus. The administration must significantly improve and formally outline disciplinary action against community members who break key social distancing guidelines. Most importantly, the administration must create a specific and updating contingency plan identifying circumstances under which the campus might close and how it will be accomplished respecting the lives, safety and human rights of all involved. 

UConn decided to reopen despite many uncertainties regarding safety and containment of coronavirus. Now, we all have to adapt to keep students, faculty, staff and family safe. The administration must account for how its actions change and endanger the lives of the thousands of those it refers to as the “pack.” 

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