It’s Saturday night. Students wearing masks below their noses file into residence halls, ignoring capacity guidelines that are posted directly on the back of the doors. The quad is packed with groups of first years, while upperclassmen flood the beach houses. Athletes have been practicing without masks all week, only to turn around and attend those same parties. There is video evidence and first hand testimonies about students continuously breaking rules, and yet Fairfield University continues to act shocked when more and more students are becoming infected with COVID-19.
This was seemingly inevitable, but if we take a closer look, it becomes more clear that Fairfield is doing, and has been doing, something wrong. As of Sept. 23, the number of reported positive cases, as well as the number of people in isolation and quarantine, has risen once again.
When the semester first began, students were as optimistic as possible about the rules in place. It seemed easy enough: wear a mask at all times, follow social distancing guidelines both in and out of residence halls, attend the weekly testing if selected and fill out a daily survey. Fairfield even made up for some of the experiences that students were missing by providing services like food trucks, more Micro-Marts, outdoor seating and various other activities. However, students were still craving the “real college experience” that they signed up for, especially those participating in athletics, and thus, outbreaks of the virus occurred.
Fairfield claims that we are now in the Yellow, or low to moderate risk, zone, on their dashboard. An increase in guidelines in many departments followed, like the reduction of gatherings and denial of students to enter residence halls that are not their own. However, there is more to the story that Fairfield refuses to acknowledge.
There are two reasons that college campuses are subject to COVID-19 outbreaks: parties and athletics. Because Fairfield University was so lenient in both of these areas in the beginning of the semester, students have started to believe that they can do whatever they please, even if it is endangering other people’s lives. That is why schools like Wesleyan University are engaging students in activities so that they can socialize without going to parties, thus deterring the amount of cases on their campus. As well as this, Wesleyan has been actively disciplining all students who are attending parties, which should have been something that Fairfield was doing from the beginning. As for athletics, Wesleyan University’s athletes are still required to wear masks, even while practicing. This is a rule that Wesleyan enforces and Fairfield continues to ignore – practices are still being held as normal, without a mask in sight. Wesleyan currently has a total of seven cases of COVID-19 between faculty and students.
However, Fairfield is not alone in its failure to adequately address COVID-19’s severity. Colleges like the University of Connecticut and the University of Hartford have also seen an increase in cases since the beginning of the fall semester. If one compares the cumulative ratios of people infected with COVID-19 at each college, though, the results are shocking. UConn and the University of Hartford’s percentages of positive cases are approximately .015 percent and .0047 percent, respectively, but Fairfield’s cumulative percentage is a shocking .018 percent. This is especially scary when considering that Fairifeld’s population is way below UConn’s and the University of Hartford’s.
There are two things to note with UConn’s COVID-19 policies: the dean has stated that life on campus would remain “normal, for now,” followed by an extensive list of what normal would look like. Also, student-athletes are reportedly still practicing, making up about one third of the students who have tested positive for COVID-19. The University of Hartford also has a list of guidelines mandated by the state, but, like UConn and Fairfield, mask wearing during athletic practices is not enforced. Many of the cases that have been reported are directly related to that latter fact.
Neighboring school Sacred Heart University is not doing much better. Compared to Fairfield, Sacred Heart is experiencing a lot more difficulty keeping students under control, as they experienced 100 new cases in the span of seven days. This can be attributed to a multitude of factors, including a lack of knowledge concerning the whereabouts of off-campus students, who made up 83 of those cases. Spokespeople for Sacred Heart have blamed the outbreaks on small gatherings that are taking place. Looking at Sacred Heart’s reopening plan, their policies are very similar to Fairfield’s and other Connecticut colleges’, especially in regards to athletics: teams will still be allowed to practice.
Fairfield needs to tighten their grip on the student population. COVID-19 is not something that administration can simply “let go” as if it were a normal college party. People’s lives are in danger. It should not take someone dying in order for Fairfield to realize that their students’ lives are not something to be toyed with.
However, it is important to linger on the thought that college students will be just that – college students. If we want to see real change, Fairfield must engage them in the community and stimulate not only their brains, but their social needs. It is Fairfield’s duty to enforce COVID-19 guidelines, including mask wearing on every single student (not just non-athletes), as well as create activities to cultivate the community that they claim to value.