COVID-19 has changed almost everyone’s lives in one way or another. We’re living through a time unlike anything else we’ve ever seen before, so it’s no surprise that we’re having to figure out new ways to do things, including education. There is a lot of debate going on about whether college students should go back to school this fall, but is anyone asking the students what they think?

My freshman year of college was cut short by COVID-19. I’m now a rising sophomore at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo (SLO), and I can easily say that in my first year of college, I was the happiest I had been in a long time. SLO was relatively unaffected by the virus at first, due to the secluded nature of the town, so when I left for spring break I thought I would be coming back. Little did I know that my two-week break would turn into an entirely online spring quarter, and months of not leaving my house.

I had the best time at school. College comes with newfound freedoms, and the chance to figure out who you are as a person. I met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever known, attended events that I’ll never forget, and learned how to function as an individual. So trust me when I say that nobody wants students to return to school in the fall more than I do. That being said, I just don’t see how that can be done safely.

Going back to school in the fall could be detrimental for incoming freshmen. At my school, and most others, all freshmen live in dorms. I loved living in the dorms, but this is not conducive to slowing the spread of a highly contagious virus. I would see people every time I left my room, and you have to do that a lot. Every time you want to shower or use the restroom you have to leave your room. Every time you want to use the kitchen you have to leave your room. Every time you need to fill up a water bottle or use the microwave, you have to leave your room. There’s just no way to realistically avoid contact with people when you’re living in dorms, unless they’re planning to drastically reduce the volume of freshmen living in them. Then that begs the question of what they plan to do with the remaining freshmen?

If we resume school in the fall, will we be getting what we paid for? College is expensive, but all the experiences and opportunities it provides are worth it. So many of the things we learn in college are life skills. We learn to function without our parents, many of us for the first time. We learn how to manage our own money, cook our own food, and take responsibility for our choices. How many of those vital learning experiences will be affected by COVID-19?

Then there’s the issue of in-person classes. Even with social distancing, I have a lot of questions about how schools plan to make this work. An investigation of large-scale outbreaks has shown that vocal projection - which would be needed in socially distant classrooms - may increase the risk of transmission. Another recent study found that particles of this virus can stay in the air for up to three hours. So even in a socially distant classroom, students could contract the virus in a number of ways. Masks would definitely lower this risk, but can colleges force students to wear them, and if they can, will they? What about students or professors who can’t wear a mask due to health conditions or trauma? What if a student refuses to wear a mask, what rights does the school have to insist they do? Some states say that they will be requiring masks on campus, others say they will just be recommending them. If a student contracts the virus, will everyone in every class that student attended, let alone went to a party with, have to quarantine for 14 days?

How will it affect the community and school when the first professor, parent, or student dies from this virus?

Overall I think everyone is in agreement about what we want to happen. Most students want to go back to school in the fall. We miss our friends, our professors, and our freedom. Most parents want students to return to school in the fall, they want their children to be able to benefit from all the opportunities college offers. We all want things to go back to normal. However, that’s not what we need. What we need is to get rid of this virus. The best way to do that, as seen in other countries, is to listen to our scientists and doctors. We need to stay six feet apart, wash our hands often, and wear our masks.

This virus is something we can, and will, get through. Let’s focus on compassion for others. As many things in this country are, COVID-19 has become very politicized. We need to focus less on “picking sides” and more on working toward our common goal of eradicating this virus. In school we’re taught to work in groups. We’re taught to value other people’s input. We’re taught to carefully evaluate information for its unbiased results, not to prove our own personal beliefs. It’s hard to feel like what we learn in school is of much value when we see people in our communities disregarding all of those important things we learn all throughout school when we need them the most. Nobody wants to be going through this. This virus is not a ploy by the media, it’s real, and it’s killing people. I hope that we are able to find a way to safely reopen colleges, but until then, we should err on the side of caution in order to save as many people as we can.

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