UNC System’s fall plan betrays students and staff amid COVID-19

Front+of+UNCW%27s+campus+

Lauren Wessell

Front of UNCW's campus

William Becker, Staff Writer

Picture this: thousands of young people coming from across the country during one of the most contagious pandemics in human history to lock themselves into tightly packed dorm buildings, where they will be forced to share bathrooms, showers, common rooms and toilet paper. Many will also still venture out and cram together to continue the college tradition of partying. 

Back in March, this same pandemic was successful in closing almost every educational institution across the world for the remaining school year, and with North Carolina not exactly dropping down in cases, this “hypothetical” picture becomes more disturbing. When the institution responsible for locking these young people in a building during this pandemic will not be offering any refund whatsoever to shut return to online classes, despite the fact that it will need to do so to prevent further spread is, well, disturbing. 

Sure, there are things required for a university to make money; this is abundantly clear. According to USA Today, many colleges had budget crises in March of last year when refunds were issued. For smaller schools to stay afloat, students are more or less required. However, the UNC system is not exactly made of “smaller schools.” In fact, the UNC system includes 17 institutions and over 240,000 students, with nine of these institutions having over 10,000 people.

While the UNC system is insisting on bringing its students back,  county school systems such as Watauga County Schools and New Hanover County Schools (the same counties where UNC system schools are located) are shifting to online instruction at least temporarily.

It is clear that the primary concern here is money, not safety. Cases will spike, this much is inevitable. Even with masks all around campuses, there is simply no way to prevent at least some spread. 

As a sophomore, I will be using on-campus housing in the form of an apartment. I am rather close friends with one of my roommates and I am completely sure that the two of us can coordinate with sanitation, masks and limited interaction with other people. I have barely left my house in the last few months other than to spend time with my partner, and if we go anywhere, we wear masks. 

I have two other roommates who I have not met, so who knows who they have interacted with? One of them does not even have their phone number listed, so I have no way of contacting him. All it would take is for one of them to go to a party, dance with the wrong person, then come back in the middle of the night, eat some of my food or take something from the fridge, then suddenly, I have the virus and the entire apartment is going to get it. Even still, I am one of the lucky ones living on campus. 

In the dorms, there are a lot of people per floor. On the first floor of Cornerstone during my freshman year, there were more than 50 people sharing one bathroom. From my recollection, there were six bathroom stalls and no more than 10 showers. Assuming most people in the building shower daily (which is a must in the intense Wilmington heat) then that means there are roughly five people sharing each shower on a daily basis. Five people who have gone absolutely everywhere across campus. From my experience at Cornerstone, the bathrooms were not exactly spotless— think hair in every sink and shower and constantly clogged toilets.

There is simply no way to efficiently prevent the spread, especially not in on-campus housing. 

For anyone who has been in the exorbitantly packed confines of Hawk’s Nest, where it is fairly common to see over a hundred people in line for Chick-fil-A, or anyone who has even left a busy classroom and traveled through any building on campus, it is hard to imagine how the university will handle social distancing without massively increasing cases or making life on campus absolutely unbearable.

Expecting these concerns, UNCW has tried to be ahead of the curve with answering questions based on concerns from students, staff and faculty by addressing them on their FAQ Best for the Nest website

“Students and employees will be expected to follow physical distancing guidelines and signage while on campus. Classrooms and most common spaces have already been rearranged to accommodate for physical distancing…We will also be working to follow appropriate social distancing practices in all our classes, which means that the number of students physically in each classroom will be greatly diminished. (For example, a classroom that would normally serve 30 students may now only serve 10-15.)” as stated on the website. 

However, it is still unclear what everything will look like and how well these guidelines will be followed, and enforced, especially by the more lackadaisical students at UNCW—the likes of who will still take any chance to party.  

If there is one thing that needs to be made clear, it is that the university is creating a pitiful version of a fall semester that is betraying students, staff and faculty.

As a student at UNCW, I am incredibly anxious about contracting the virus and would not normally feel comfortable with putting myself in such a situation, but in a sense, I feel trapped by my need for education. 

Not only am I paying boatloads of money, but I am putting myself at risk just because I need an education and the university wants my money. The virus has not died down enough to provide a safe return for anyone. Miami University, George Washington University, Harvard and California State University are all online. Why is the UNC system staying in person?