IU President Michael McRobbie sent an email to IU students and faculty announcing that the fall semester will be in-person Feb. 24. The letter praised the university’s current prevention efforts, pointed out IU’s sustained low positivity rate and cited the university’s optimism that classes will be in-person by early fall if we continue on this curve-flattening trajectory.
The letter was shared widely on social media and among students, inspiring well-deserved excitement and optimism.
But there’s a crucial element to this plan that seemed to be overlooked by students: The continued adherence to the university’s COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m very worried that a combination of student behavior and the state at large will put our semester in jeopardy,” IU junior Spencer Lawson said.
Our fall semester hinges on students’ ability to continue taking direct action in the prevention of local COVID-19 spread.
A majority of IU students can probably agree these last three semesters have been far from ideal.
The shock of online learning in spring 2020, the dominance of Zoom the following fall and the online fatigue this semester have taken a toll on the resiliency of the IU community. I’ve already seen an increase of students out to dinner and attending gatherings off campus this semester. We’ve been in the “new normal” for nearly a year, so looking for any way to return to normalcy as soon as possible is more than reasonable.
When McRobbie’s email arrived in my inbox, I felt a moment of total relief. I have always been extremely anxious and cautious about COVID-19 spread in a campus environment, but after reading the letter, even I was excited.
I realized very quickly that August is still six months away, though. There is still time for things to change.
“As long as the pandemic is with us, we must be ready to adjust course rapidly, and we will constantly review our plans, activities and operations,” McRobbie said.
[Related: Read our COVID-19 coverage here]
Next semester isn’t set in stone.
It was encouraging to see widespread excitement about fall semester, but equally as troubling that Lawson, a fellow IU student, was just as concerned as me.
“If there’s anything this pandemic has taught me, it has taught me not to get comfortable,” he said. “I am ready for the university to announce tomorrow ‘Just kidding, we can’t actually do that.’”
Though COVID-19 spread remains low in class, many experts’ primary concern is its spread off campus at places such as parties and club meetings.
Our actions off campus could still have dire consequences when it comes to restrictions on in-person activities. Lawson also talked about his experiences as a theater student, citing an instance where he was prohibited from seeing a production he designed because his friend was quarantined.
“At any moment, the rug could be pulled out from under you and it could feel like the project you're working on got canceled,” he said.
As a theater student myself, I’ve been proud that all productions produced through the university and by student directors have proceeded without any COVID-19 outbreaks, but the risks for production cancellations always loom no matter how careful directors chose to be.
After our excitement about the fall fades, we’ll arrive at a time for widespread accountability when it comes to ensuring others’ compliance to COVID-19 precautions. In order to preserve our increasingly normal way of life, we need to practice radical commitment to guidelines and ensure our actions don’t force continued online learning.
The IU community should be commended for their continued social distancing efforts. Since we have returned from winter break, our positivity rate has remained below 0.3%.
The pressure is now on more than ever to ensure cases stay low this semester and through the summer. IU students need to take the excitement about an in-person semester and let it reinvigorate their commitment to the university’s COVID-19 policies until we show up for classes next August.
Chris Sciortino (he/him) is a sophomore studying theatre and political science. He's an NPR and musical theater fanatic, and also a proud member of the Singing Hoosiers.