When Wellesley College announced its COVID-19 policies and guidelines for the 2022-23 school year, I had a lot of hope that this fall would look a lot like last fall. Students would be able to come together even closer for the first time since the pandemic began, and I had faith in the student body and administration that if a significant spike in COVID-19 cases were to occur, the administration would respond accordingly with updated measures.
Of course, that has not been the case. Instead, I find myself and my peers increasingly in the dark about the current state of COVID-19 at the College. Every day I hear about more of my peers testing positive. I wonder if I am surrounded by COVID-19 and if our student body is drowning in the dark.
While testing can be optional, publishing data, despite risking a biased sample, is a necessity given the current state of affairs. According to the Sept. 26 Senate report, Dean Horton claimed that only about 500 students have registered for on-campus testing, this is still a large enough sample of the Wellesley population to glean meaningful data about incidences of COVID-19 on this campus. The lack of a live COVID-19 dashboard is leaving students without the tools to make informed decisions about their safety and how they engage with the community. The college is instead choosing to lean into plausible deniability rather than address the issue at hand.
Plausible deniability is the concept that an administration or chain of command can deny responsibility for events due to a lack of evidence that the problem exists, or that the problem is perpetrated by said administration. In this case, the administration is failing to acknowledge that a lack of COVID-19 policies has resulted in the virtually uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 across campus spaces – and failing to acknowledge the threat that these cases pose to students. The College also continues to ignore the outcry from the student body regarding the uncontrolled spread, instead arguing that peer institutions have had similarly relaxed guidelines since last semester.
I find the College’s inaction regarding the current COVID-19 outbreak on campus to be entirely against its core mission. The College has always advertised itself as a place where it encourages students to create change when they deem a system to be flawed. The College has always prided itself on being an institution that does not feel the need to settle for societal standards and policies that other institutions still cling to, but rather being an institution where the needs of the student body are prioritized. I am not encouraging administrators to send everyone home, make classes remote or even bring back mask mandates. I am simply asking that critical data needed to make a well-informed decision about my own safety should be easily accessible and frequently updated. While I wish that the COVID-19 policies did more to serve immunocompromised students, such as by isolating students who have tested positive for COVID-19 offsite rather than in the dorm, bringing back the dashboard would be an excellent first step on the road of greater care and transparency regarding the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Students who do test positive are left with the metaphorical equivalent of a smoke alarm, but no way to call 911 in case of a fire.
Without clear communication and acknowledgment of the unrelenting spread of COVID-19 on campus, we will not begin to see a decrease in incidental cases. In a year defined by “personal choices”, I ask that the College equips us with the information we need to make said decisions.