On Jan. 4, 2022, the UR President’s Office sent out an email providing further details about on-campus proceedings for the subsequent semester (to come into effect when classes resumed on Jan. 12). A new requirement for all residential students to procure a negative COVID-19 test under 72 hours before arrival on campus was implemented. Results from that, as well as record of a booster shot, were to be uploaded to UHSConnect. All undergraduate and graduate classes were scheduled to begin in person, orientation was to be conducted as scheduled, and multiple dining options would be fully operational. The only changes to be made for the near future — at the time — were the shifts to masking requirements for students and faculty, as well as having all extracurriculars be held virtually until Feb. 1.
Then, in the span of about a day, administration’s announcements changed from an all-clear to a near-complete ban on students returning to campus, with no initial information on which qualified students to return. Students were left reeling, with many needing to change expensive travel plans last-minute, and many others unsure if unsteady home situations qualified them to return to campus.
The backlash to the heel-turn of communication was fast and ruthless. The University’s first Instagram post after the news broke was flooded with angry comments. Parents and students were left asking for clarification. They were answered the subsequent day by another email, which still left many important questions for students looking to return to campus unanswered.
While the specific COVID-19 variant has changed, the University has stayed ever-infuriating in their approach to making campus-wide decisions for the safety of the community at large. The University’s actions this winter break were a case of deja-vu for the juniors and seniors who had experienced the original closure of the University in March 2020.
Then, the University had the excuse that it was an “unprecedented time.” Now, there is no excuse. It’s been two years. Several high-profile schools announced that they would be online before the New Year, even before Christmas, while the University was still hemming and hawing and refusing to communicate.
The catastrophic failure of the University to communicate efficiently plays on privilege. Not everyone has the luxury of a stable home life or consistent Internet access, but the University’s fickle decision-making may not have given those students ample time to qualify for returning to campus, especially with the decision to require a negative COVID-19 test being announced only a couple days prior to campus opening for the spring semester. With many public testing facilities being fully booked for days on end, it may not have been viable for people who needed to get back safely while following guidelines. For students who don’t view staying at home versus coming back to campus as a choice — the majority of whom are international or without the financial means — this further reinforces the lopsided privilege dynamic between the haves and have nots.
We realize administrators aren’t familiar with what it’s like to be a student during a pandemic. We don’t know what it’s like to run a university during a pandemic, so we can only imagine that it’s frustrating to have to make new and unique decisions every day, then be criticized for them.
It’s still frustrating to lose our youth to a global catastrophe. We accept that this is far from the worst experience to come from this pandemic, and we accept that we’ll have to make sacrifices in order to protect our peers. At the least, we deserve decisive policymaking and actual communication to back those decisions up.
As much as we all yearn for a normal year of college, the University should never have planned for an in person beginning to the Spring 2022 semester. Everyone in the UR community, both students and administration, has a responsibility to the city of Rochester. Returning to in-person activities would have been a slap in the face to the people of the 19th ward. It was a near-hopeless idea, doomed from the start, and the University wouldn’t have had to change course if the ship were sailing the right way in the first place.
It’s time for both the University and its students to face the truth: We are not going to have a “normal college experience.” There will be no “return to normal” for us — the majority of us don’t even know what “normal” is. Our primary goal should be (and should always have been) to be as safe and proactive as possible in the face of this pandemic. It’s really going to suck. We’re going to lose a part of our lives we’ve been dreaming about for years. The University is going to get a hell of a lot more angry comments on their Instagram posts.
The Editorial Board is a weekly Opinions article representing the view of the Campus Times, co-written by Editor-in-Chief Corey Miller-Williams, Publisher Megan Browne, Managing Editors Melanie Earle and Alyssa Koh, and Opinions Editor Allie Tay.