On March 12th, 2020, Point Park University students received an email announcing that all in person classes would be cancelled until the next Wednesday, where they would be resumed online. At the time, there were 1,300 confirmed cases of coronavirus in America, and zero confirmed cases in Allegheny County.
Five and a half months later, students are flocking back to campus, when things are objectively much worse. The United States has 5.55 million confirmed cases and over 173,000 deaths. Allegheny County has 9,576 confirmed cases. The university and the president’s office assures students that they have the best interests at heart, and I want to believe that they do, but it is clear that the real reason they insist on holding classes this semester is almost purely financial.
The issue isn’t the fact that they’re trying to make money. They’re a private university in a capitalist society where higher education is a for profit commodity. There is absolutely room for criticism about the role they play in that system, but it’s unfair to them for us to pretend to be shocked by the fact that they want our money.
The actual issue right now is the fact that they, and universities all across the country, are opening full speed ahead despite having experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci who went on record saying that this fall through spring will likely be one of the darkest periods in American history. Despite President Hennigan’s assurances that everything will be fine, the school’s plan feels sketchier than a pair of Light Up Skechers.
Best case scenario is that everyone comes back to school, people slowly become exposed to the virus, we go home for winter break, either exposing our families or are exposed by our families, and then return to school in January, just in time for everyone to get sick.
But here’s what’s more likely to happen, and we all know is what probably will happen. A bunch of big parties will get held in Oakland, a bunch of irresponsible students will expose the entire school to COVID, we all get sent home and then our families are now exposed.
Another issue: commuters. Point Park has laid out guidelines for people living on campus, but they have no ability to police someone who drives to and from campus each and every single day. A person could easily go out to a party, or even worse, someone they live with could say “that COVID thing is a liberal hoax, I refuse to wear a mask to go to Applebee’s” and they involuntarily get exposed.
It’s easy to pretend Point Park is a liberal bubble that is impervious of any anti-mask beliefs, but there are almost certainly students on campus who think the whole thing is media propaganda. All it takes is one idiot and the whole thing’s ruined for everyone else. Just the other day a video went viral, showing hundreds of Penn State kids huddled in a large group, not wearing masks, doing some sort of “we are” chant.
Overall, the plan of trusting students to make the right decisions when it comes to social distancing is one of the worst plans I have ever heard in my entire life. Sure, I trust myself, my friends, and most of the people on campus to make smart and safe decisions this year. But for every 99 social distancers, there’s always going to be that one person who thinks they’re invincible, not realizing the people that they’re putting in danger with their inconsiderate actions.
At the same time, it’s a two way street. I don’t trust the student body as a whole to make smart decisions, but more importantly and more urgently, I have almost no faith in the school to make smart decisions. During peak flu season last year they did not restock the soap on my floor’s communal bathroom for two weeks, despite the R.E. being informed and phone calls to public safety eventually being made. For two weeks during the peak of flu season, there was no soap. And I’m supposed to believe that unprecedented precautions are being taken to combat the spread of COVID.
One precaution they’ve announced is that they’ll be cleaning the elevators, something that I assumed they already did. I wish I could find more things they’re doing, but most emails don’t actually have concrete directions, they’re just fluff and buzzwords. As the Talking Heads once said “you’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything.”
But when the emails for any sort of payment comes through, those instructions are so specific you’d think they were a manifesto. Because ultimately, this whole thing screams “give us your money first, ask questions after.”
I want to believe that Point Park will be a safe space for learning this fall. I think everyone wants to get back to classes and away from their families, but I think it is absolutely fair to have apprehensions about the situation.