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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

COVID Cuts First College Semester Short for WIS Alums

O’Brien and her suitemates in the UNC football stadium (Courtesy of Torin O’Brien).

Recent WIS class of 2020 graduates, Fabrice Gray and Torin O’Brien, moved into their dorms at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in early August. After graduating online and being stuck in the house, they got to escape into a partial in-person learning environment. Though, COVID-19 quickly spread through the campus forcing O’Brien and Gray to move out of their dorms within two weeks.

Universities and schools that chose to bring students back to campus this fall struggle to regulate the spread of the virus and contain students this school year. All North Carolina schools reopened and many like NC State were quick to send students home as well. Across the country, New York University struggled to keep students fed during a 14 day quarantine and University of Alabama has a high number of cases but continues to keep students on campus.  

UNC is one of the first schools to send students home after beginning the first semester in a hybrid model. The university faced multiple outbreaks in dorms, with most stemming from the off-campus parties held by sororities and fraternities. 

Many students were eager to start school on campus, including Gray and O’Brien. Students had to make a decision between hybrid learning or continuing distance learning, while still moving to campus. Gray was very excited to go to school and return to an in-person learning environment as he thinks the pandemic gives a unique opportunity for students to focus on learning. 

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“Yes, it’s a pandemic. But, personally, I believe there is no better time to dive deeper into your studies,” Gray said. 

Both Gray and O’Brien realized the risk they were taking, but it was important to them to fully experience their first semester of college freedom. 

“It was high risk, high reward,” Gray said. 

Most students followed the university’s Covid safety rules. In university buildings, masks and social distancing were mandatory on campus and UNC provided emergency masks for students who did not wear them. UNC relied on students to check their symptoms. The university laid out pathways and seating arrangements in classrooms to ensure social distancing.

Even with students wearing masks and distancing it didn’t stop students from being friendly with each other. Making friends is an important part of college, and students’ made their best attempts to do so while adapting to social distancing regulations. 

“I didn’t make as many friends as I know I could, and I think that’s a common sentiment expressed across campus,” Gray said. 

O’Brien, however, had a group of suitemates, which made it easier for her to make friends during her first weeks. But, many students didn’t follow the guidelines, especially off campus where Greek life played a significant role in spreading the virus. 

“It seemed to me like everyone I encountered was following the guidelines,” O’Brien said. “I think the main thing that was spreading [the virus], was [fraternities] and sororities hosting in person rush and parties.”

UNC relied on students to follow regulations on campus. With the school’s enforcement seeming to only extend to campus practice, off campus housing like fraternities, sororities and off-campus apartments for freshmen became the epicenters of the UNC outbreak. 

According to the Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s student newspaper, the three main clusters of COVID-19 stemmed from Greek life; two in fraternities and one in a sorority. After announcing that the university would continue online, UNC expressed frustration with the actions of these students in an email to greek life institutions. 

“The apparent indifference and recklessness that some individuals and organizations have shown during the past two weeks,” the email stated regarding its frustration with Greek life. 

UNC had to crack down on Greek life to ensure the spread doesn’t continue with classes returning online. Students in fraternities and sororities aren’t mandated to return home. These organizations are off campus and aren’t directly affiliated with campus housing meaning the school has little jurisdiction over them. 

“A big thing is students don’t really care as much because they know they’re young. They know that most likely COVID won’t be as bad for them,” Gray said. 

Many students were very reckless on and off campus in social situations, especially deriving from fraternity parties off campus. With this in mind, it’s important to realize that schools may not be able to trust students. 

“We’re college students. People want to party,” Gray said. 

Although, for students, being on campus was stressful. They received updates on the most recent clusters on campus and with rapidly increasing numbers, many felt stressed. These notifications have now ceased as they’ve returned to remote learning. 

“They [outbreaks] kept pouring in. And then our building had one, and we knew we weren’t staying much longer,” O’Brien explained. 

According to The Hill, UNC faculty joined the backlash towards UNC regarding how poorly they enforced their rules and not taking the safest practices. There was no mandatory quarantine or coronavirus testing. 

“They didn’t test us coming in because they thought it was a false sense of security meaning that you could get it whenever so tests wouldn’t really help, but I think would’ve given the university a start,” Gray said. 

Both Gray and O’Brien wish their school had required testing. Students who tested positive would be forced into isolation in a specific dorm building. O’Brien knew of students who quarantined themselves but didn’t want to get tested even when they thought they had it because of testing difficulty and quarantine dorms weren’t the nicest place to stay. 

“It made it so scary to have [COVID-19] because I would be living in this hell hole with no friends” O’Brien said. 

However, with little enforcement off campus and few safety precautions taken when students arrived to campus, WIS alums saw the closing coming. 

“I had a feeling we would be sent home. I didn’t think it was going to be this quickly,” Gray said. 

UNC announced on August 17 they’d send students home after increasing coronavirus cases. The university ended up topping 1,000 cases, punctuating their failure and begging the question if any school, at any level, can fully reopen during COVID-19.  

Similar to UNC, WIS is not mandating testing or quarantines upon returning to school; masks will be worn at all times as well as physical distancing in and outside of class with specific routes to and from class. At this point, WIS has not made announcements if they will return to school or not and what the intricacies of daily life and enforcement will be like. 

“The rules were clear. UNC did not enforce them to the best of their ability,” Gray said.

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