Tales from America’s COVID college campuses
“The whole thing is a bait and switch."
America’s college students are returning to campus for the Fall semester, and many are finding themselves in an environment that no longer resembles an academic institution, but something closer to a correctional facility for young adults. It’s not just a handful of schools that are pursuing extreme restrictions and punitive measures in the name of “stopping the spread” of the coronavirus, but something that has become a nationwide norm. College campuses have transformed into some of the most restrictive environments in America.
After hearing about these conditions, I sent out a post on social media asking for testimonials from students, parents, and educators. The responses below are some of the many replies I received discussing what students are experiencing in colleges and universities that have allowed for students to return to campus.
University of Alabama
“The whole thing is a bait and switch. We're being forced to pay to attend Zoom classes in our rooms all semester. A few of my friends didn't even come back to town, and I don't blame them. Why would they when they can get the same education at home?
I only have two in person classes. Both meet one day a week. One is optional to go on Zoom if you prefer. The other allows five students in class at once. We're going on shifts so Week 1 the first five go, then Week 2 the second five go, etc.”
I love this university but if I knew when I was in high school that I'd be staying in my room all day, I would've never gone to any college.”
“No gatherings over 15 people. Everyone’s mental health is crumbling. Nobody is even sick and those who quarantine follow the rules. School requires asymptomatic testing and there’s no end in sight . My guy and girl friends are all miserable . So many have been like this is prison we can’t do anything. All bars closed in Louisiana. We gather at local parks and the cops come to shut it down. No fun ever allowed and no end in sight.”
University of Iowa
“They have ‘isolation dorms’ for COVID kids, but they are horrid. Guys in hazmat suits come ... 2 week isolation, no visitors. Nurse on call but up to 3 hour wait if you need something … kids at school now are not getting tested so they don’t get sentenced to the isolation prisons.”
“Students had to sign a health pledge that they had no say in developing. All students are confined to dorm rooms until COVID test comes back negative. No one is allowed off campus until at least September 15. No visitors on campus all year. School has a google form so that people can snitch on non-compliers. Town is terrified of students returning. This is in a county in Vermont that has had 5 cases and the entire state had 55 deaths. They have cancelled all fall athletic competitions. Students are back on campus, but most classes will be remote, with of course a 3% tuition increase. Professors active on reopening committees, so it is not surprising that they are pro lockdown. Local state senator wrote to [school president] and called college reckless for bringing kids back. They all want to live in a bubble, take the money that the college brings to the community, but have no actual interaction.”
Southern Methodist University
“Students must wear masks outside dorm rooms, cannot visit another dorm, etc. Threatened with draconian honor code violations if they violate the rules and orientation was declared all virtual at the last minute. Yet today, the athletes, with permission of and active participation by the University, were permitted to organize a BLM march through campus.”
University of Tennessee-Martin
“The first two weeks of the semester have been very different. At my university, I have to stay in my dorm. Since my college courses are all online, keep in mind without any tuition deduction, my friends and I have not gotten to leave our dorm to make friends. One way we socialize is opening up our dorm window & talking to people who are walking to their cars or back to their dorms. Another thing we have to do is take a daily COVID report, if we do not pass this test, we are not allowed to leave our dorm and will not be allowed to go anywhere at school. As well as a daily COVID report, we can only enter and exit through specific doors. The university has cut off our keys to entering certain ways. For example, if we are walking back from the dining hall, we have to walk to the parking lot behind our dorm to enter our building. This can actually be very dangerous if we find ourselves in a situation we need to enter through the front door & can’t because it’s locked. All my classes are online. Though they are all online, I am still required to stay on campus, pay for on campus housing, and buy a meal plan.”
University of South Carolina
“Roommates are terrified of making a mistake regarding masks, distancing and gatherings … the President basically ‘yells’ everyday that this is not sustainable and is threatening to shut it all down … kids are just waiting for the hammer to drop.”
“It’s horrific. After four months of quarantine with no friends, she was desperate to go to campus so we encouraged it. I am sick with worry every day. Not about the virus. About the mental anguish and social isolation they are forcing on our kids.”
“No roommates ... all online classes, no in person activities, dining halls closed, libraries closed except under very strict guidance, no visiting another dorm room, 6-ft distance at all times, masks mandatory when not in dorm room, cannot leave the Nashville area, circles drawn on quad area, threats of suspension/expulsion for first offense, security guards posted throughout campus to enforce rules, kids encouraged to report non-compliance, etc.
After having been on campus for a week, my daughter has not met nor spoken to a single person. She is in her dorm room in front of her computer at almost all times, and the only times she really leaves are when she picks up her to-go meals. This is a very depressing situation.”
College in University of Texas system
“All but made it impossible for Baptist Student Ministries to meet. Their meeting rooms are on campus and have to be cleaned 4 times a day. People have to remain 6 feet apart, mandatory masks at all times, temperature checks as people arrive, and student ID cards have to be swiped for contact tracing.”
Student “wants to fight back but feels helpless, not knowing who may be reporting her actions. Very, very Soviet-like.”
University of Dayton
“They aren’t even letting kids go to class at all … it’s all on Zoom.”
Arizona State University
“We have one of the most ridiculous systems in the country. You are supposed to submit a daily health check on the ASU app which consists of 2 questions. If by any chance you forget to do that, your college account is put on hold. I am also a student worker … and I have to sit at a desk. There is no one around me for 6ft, yet they make me wear a mask for 6 hours of my shift. They do the same to students who are in a lab and are using the computers. Even when there is no one around you you are supposed to wear a mask. I still don’t know if masks work or not but making students wear them for hours and hours is ridiculous. “
The Ohio State University
Testimonial 1: “Interim suspensions if they break any of the “rules“ including attending/participating in on campus or off campus gatherings of more than 10. Last weekend when we moved in our child, off-campus housing, helicopters were buzzing over the houses, there are people basically roaming around and spying on kids to bust them and we knew exactly what they were looking for. Large gatherings. It’s insane. Daily check-in‘s of health prior to being allowed off campus. If you think this generation has anxiety issues before, can you imagine what they have now? I get the common sense stuff but I really wondered what country we were living in with all of this excess surveillance.”
Testimonial 2: “In June when housing deposits were due they said ‘in person classes, no masks outside’ no mention of tests. All positive and happy and there’d be football. My daughter ...really wanted to go back to college as not being there ... in the college environment, isolated at home was causing a lot of depression.. so we let her go. 48 hours before the students move in week was to begin, OSU changed all the rules. It’s a dystopian hell.”
College in University of Texas system
“Everyday, I hear of some new restriction or rule that students are required to follow. Things have been even more significantly tightened even during this first week of school. Perhaps the most obvious instance is the Housing Department’s obsession with keeping students away from one another. Before the first week of school, Housing sent a decree stating that students were prohibited to have more than one guest in our apartments or dorm rooms at a time. This past Wednesday, three days after the beginning of the semester, a new email: we were now forbidden to have any guests whatsoever. Over the summer, new security cameras have been installed in the hallways of all buildings, aimed at residents’ doors.”
Johns Hopkins University
“1. 6 weeks ago, hybrid. Everyone back but sophomores kicked out of dorms, must rent a house or off campus to make room for freshman in singles. Jrs/Srs usually live off campus.
2. 3 weeks ago reverse course. Campus CLOSED do not come back. Sorry you signed a binding legal lease.
3. Many kids in apt/houses are going back (they ARE paying rent after all), to remote learn.
4. Couple off campus kids test +.
5. Hopkins sends threatening letter...no matter where you are, if you break Hopkins rules with masks, social distancing and being with more than 10 people, you can be expelled.
6. They urge people to rat on each other, and kids start FB page just for ratting.”
Testimonial 2: “Just dropped my son (who is an athlete) off at Johns Hopkins. They shut down. Cowards. He lives off campus. His friends at Ohio St team may quit because it’s PRISON! Other places as well. Stay in your room, meals delivered to your dorm only allowed out 3 times. Insanity.”
St Lawrence University
“1 positive case out of 2k tests. Kids limited to 'family groups' and no more than four in dorm room. Masks when outside dorm and wrist band indicates you can go outdoors. Very limited social interaction.”
Louisiana State University (LSU)
“Our son spent his first nights at college alone. No welcome dorm pizza party. No meeting the kids on his floor. He walked campus alone. You can’t eat in the cafeteria so take out food back to your room. Masks required everywhere, in Baton Rouge in August. Outside. I don’t know how the kids aren’t fainting. All classes online. One class is a ‘learn on your own’ and take a test. No instruction. He did manage to do virtual rush and joined a fraternity. He said it was the only way to meet anyone. His roommate did not rush and sleeps all day. The school wants them to report symptoms daily on an app. They have testing pods all over campus and want all the kids to get tested. If you do test positive they force you into a hotel - alone for 14 days. Not allowed out of the room save for one hour a day with a mask on. They turn off their room cards so they can’t escape back to their dorms. We get emails weekly advising us to support our kids getting a test and ;behaving; so they don’t have to close the campus. It’s sick. What are we doing? Why? If LSU does close and send the kids home we won’t go back. Why pay out of state tuition for Zoom? Why are we depriving our kids of their college experiences? I’m just sick about this every day. I hope someone can break thru the COVID fog and be brave. Our kids deserve it.”
Western Carolina University
“Mandatory masking inside and OUTSIDE. Cafeterias are closed with take out food and long line. Families had until Aug 1 to decide whether to send kids and accept a no refund policy if kids were sent home. This meant you were on the hook for all loans and payments even if services were no longer provided. Of course at that time, classes reported as hybrid. Two weeks in, most classes have now switched to online only.”
Miami University of Ohio
“Ordered via an email to quarantine immediately so they could contact trace athletes ... Ordered into an abandoned dorm immediately that wasn’t intended to be occupied this year. No supervision or help with moving. No elevators. Not cleaned. Communal bathrooms which makes no sense. didn’t matter if u hadn’t been to parties or around anyone who tested positive. Threatened with class 2 misdemeanor by the sheriff and code of conduct violation aka loss of scholarship if u went home. Most are now finally released. Campus is now testing 3000 students a week once the general student pop returns on 9/17. At any time you can be forced back into quarantine for 14 days due to contract tracing. The students are now not wanting to be around anyone else. They are told to ‘to treat every person as If they are sick’ so they don’t get caught in a contact tracing web so they essentially are being told to not interact with others but were forced to live in double occupancy which now makes them judge everything the roommate does because if your roommate is contact traced you are forced back into jail.”
“Only 15 people allowed to gather. Masks required outside their room anywhere..inside or out. All classes are online. Only 1 person can visit room and masks must be worn. Immediate suspension if caught violating. This is inhumane. It’s prison.”
“My son goes to Syracuse - entirely dorm room bound and all classes online. As he was coming from out of state he and all other out-of-staters had to arrive two weeks early and they were dorm bound and had food delivered to the rooms. He received this hysterical message sent to the students on August 20th:”
“11 days to get the required COVID test back. Isolated the whole time. No in person eating at the dorms as a norm. Training in the heat with masks for hours. Masks 24/7 on campus inside and out. Social isolation. 2 classes a week in person, everything else virtual. Can’t come home until end of fall semester as you can’t travel more than 100 miles from Omaha. Aren’t allowed to go anywhere or do anything except local restaurant pick ups and run to the store. If you are mildly exposed to a person with COVID, 14 day mandatory quarantine.”
College of Charleston
Anon 1: “They are forcing them to all get tested, they can’t have anyone at all in their dorms, all common areas are closed except laundry. A lot of places to eat are still closed. Charleston has a mask mandate. They’ve got these kids, especially first year students terrorized.”
Anon 2: “Mandatory masks and distancing or face suspension on 1st offense. Dorm policy even more draconian.”
College in University of Texas system
My son is a Freshman. All his classes are online. He chose to live on campus in order to experience a semblance of college life. In his giant dormitory, his room is only one with three guys. They have knocked on doors in their hall trying to meet people, and have been chastised and hassled by the RAs for being ‘radicals’ for simply reaching out to others.
The chow hall staff does not allow these roommates to sit together at the same table. Tables are a radius six feet apart. Every interaction is actively discouraged.
The general school population has adhered to the solitary confinement model. [Students] keep their heads down, masks on, and avoid even saying ‘hello’ walking around campus. My son has said their fear is palpable.”
“They have a very restrictive plan which we respect for managing COVID... but there's nothing to manage the student's personal experience. Even with negative tests... very restrictive. All classes are online. He can't even socialize with the other students in the dorm. 1 hour outside once in a while ... this was his time to mature, and become more independent. It's been the equivalent of House Arrest with a stranger which would have been tolerable if things were allowed to open up. He can't even go outside to speak on the phone in private.”
Letter from Syracuse University administrator to students:
“Weekly COVID tests. Can’t eat in the dining halls but are given meals in take out containers to be eaten in the dorm room. In person classes can’t be more than 25 and of course, masks required inside at all times except in your own room. Wearing mask when walking to class in the oppressive humidity. [Athletes] have to workout wearing masks! The coaches and trainers have to wear masks and face shield plus gloves. Players can’t use the locker rooms or team rooms this season! This is all crazy and sad!”
Nebraska Wesleyan University
“This is a horrible way to go to college. [Daughter] was in tears last night about the prospect of the mandatory immediate quarantine while waiting for the test, as she has heard from others that it was taking 27+ hours to get the tests back on the slow days. She is worried that she might be an asymptomatic case. A lot of people are giving these kids grief for complying with mask orders, but I can tell you that these kids are just desperate for a return to normalcy. They had everything taken away from them for 6 months, and are so afraid that it will happen again. As far as why parents would send their kids back, my daughter has a really good scholarship - [most] of her tuition is paid. We can't risk losing it because we don't have the means to pay for college without good financial aid. What we are doing to this generation of kids is awful ... common sense has been missing from this debate for months.”
Letter from president of William and Mary University to students:
“In late July they announced the move to remote classes. This basically kicked them all off campus and caused a scramble for kids to secure off campus rental housing since the kids want to be at school. The university has all these COVID rules that they apply to these kids OFF Campus. Such as no gatherings of 10 or more people. They have enhanced their Hawk Watch security app to include one’s ability to rat out kids that are gathering together in excess. They are setting these kids up to fail at this because college kids are going to do what college kids do.”
“In February I got him a car. Due to COVID he had to come back home in March. He went back to school this month just to find out that building management treated his car as abandoned car and it been sold in an auction. This happened to many international students around the country.”
University of Arkansas
“The housing staff, in particular the student staff, are really out for blood … the student staff wants people suspended for any and every infraction. Weve pumped so much fear down people's throats for 6 months that I believe we are well past grace and patience.”
My child's university is testing them twice per week & they must quarantine for two full weeks upon arrival, even if they test negative! They are not allowed visitors on campus & no one is allowed to leave, the entire semester! An asymptomatic positive test will result in isolation at a Hotel the university rented! What a scam! These are all human rights violations! No contact with friends, family or even known physicians for what, so the university can profit & the students will ‘learn’ to comply & become reliant/dependent. Kitchens are closed so they can't even cook! No one was allowed to help them move in either! Single girls were literally trying to lug refrigerators across campus & up flights of stairs. No help was provided or allowed! As you probably know, many dorms do not have air conditioning.”
University of Wyoming
I can attest the stories coming out of universities really are as bad as people claim. They are online with classes until the end of September when kids will attend massively socially distanced/ hybrid classes. After the thanksgiving break, students then will leave campus and have finals online. We are being sent COVID saliva tests and any positives are treated like the plague even though there’s not a single case on campus. My university isn’t as bad as the others mentioned but I have a feeling when they get back to campus things will be worse. Im taking this as a gap year because I refused to comply with the draconian mask orders. It was bad enough I had to pay for three months rent after vacating school last month.”
University in PAC-12 Conference
My daughter had three COVID tests (they lost one) and an antibody test that she actually tested positive for. She had COVID in March. They told her that because she tested positive for the antibodies they were going to treat it as COVID and have her isolate until they could do a heart screening. She could not participate in her sport until done. We, her parents, asked if we could have her get a heart screening from a local doctor so to expedite things. They said no, they only want their own team to do the screenings. To top things off, she has to go before a counsel on Monday to defend herself from being at a gathering of no more than 30 people where someone has tested positive for Covid. She was told there could be a consequence for her actions.”
“The university has announced that there will be weekly mandatory
tests … If any student refuses to take the COVID-19 test, they are subject to suspension or expulsion.
Students are not making friends with their classmates … No one can recognize who's who with a mask on, so there has been a significant increase of phone usage on campus and a significant decrease of socialization. Students show up for their in-person class, sit there, and head back to their apartment as soon
as they are finished with classes.
Everyone expects to move online before the semester is over. We all
suspect that the university is postponing the move so that they can
get the full tuition without much grounds for a lawsuit.”
Colorado State University Pueblo
“My daughter … was there not even 24 hours and was sent to quarantine because she ‘might’ have come into contact with someone who was in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. They made the students leave their own rooms and moved them into a room and they couldn’t bring their own bedding. The food they drop off is a frozen sandwich, orange, chips and soda The have to stay there for 14 days and won’t even test them. No outside testing is even allowed. The admin don’t know what they’re doing nor do they let them outside. They make the locks not work.”
College in Alabama
“The plan was to have in person classes, but a few weeks before the fall semester, everything went online. Even chemistry is being taught online, which truly boggles my mind.
No in person tutoring sessions, no student activities, and virtual advising appointments are being pushed heavily. Students in the dorms (because somehow it's safe to have people living on campus, but not going to class there?), must wear a mask in any of the dorm common areas, and congregating is only allowed in the laundry room and kitchen. No visitors. To their credit, they're sending students who test positive home instead of locking them up on campus, but they're only being given 24 hours to vacate the dorm. We get students from all over the state, not just local kids. And contact tracing is being pushed even if someone has a slight fever and nothing else.”
University of North Alabama
“We’re not allowed to have any visitors, nor are we allowed to go anywhere on campus without a mask. This makes no sense to me considering many of my peers commute and do not wear a mask at home and see different people every single day. I was also randomly selected, along with another 25% of the student population, to go get another COVID test done even though I was already tested a little over two weeks ago, receiving a negative test, showing no symptoms and completing my health check every day saying I don’t have any symptoms. And finally, most of my classes have been moved online due to COVID and social distancing.”
Rochester Institute of Technology
“The students here are purposely doing everything they can to avoid testing. Everyone is deathly afraid of having to go to the COVID dorms for 14 days. The students are making pacts with each other so that if they do test positive they won't tell contact tracers who they have been with so their friends then won’t have to get tested. It’s a house of cards.”
University of Maryland
“Every single one of my classes is online and I’m socially isolated in my room because we don’t have roommates. The loneliness and homesickness has affected me so much, and they don’t have any counseling available. If they do, it’s through a Zoom call, which just isn’t the same when you’re struggling with mental health. My anxiety has gotten so bad I actually have to go home to see a specialist and just find someone who I can talk to. It really is like a prison here.”
9/2/20: Gettysburg College has announced that they are initiating an indefinite and “immediate all-student quarantine,” due to some 25 out of 348 COVID-19 test results coming back positive.
9/2/20: University of Illinois letter from top admins to students.
“Over these past few days, the irresponsible actions of a small number of students have created the very real possibility of ending an in-person semester for all of us. Their poor choices have led to a concerning and rapid increase in the number of new undergraduate COVID-19 positive cases. We know the majority of you reading this message are following the university’s COVID-19 guidance, and we are grateful to all of you who have worked so hard to help by doing your part.”
We have created the most extensive testing process of any university in the country. We have extensively modeled to make the best science-driven decisions. We have invented a new COVID-19 test. We’ve created a new app to ensure building access and academic standing are linked to testing compliance. Seven teams have worked since the spring to do everything we could possibly think of to make your Illinois experience as normal as possible.
We’ve given ourselves a real chance to come together and to stay together.
But the decision to do so is in your hands.
We stay together. Or we go home.
It comes down to these next two weeks.
It is up to you.”
Full letter: https://massmail.illinois.edu/massmail/61640956.html
Daytona State College
9/4/20: “Daytona State College has suddenly suspended all athlete movements and activities because of the ‘positivity rate’ and is sending them all home. Many do not come from great homes or are even overseas - being together with other athletes is the highlight of their time here. It is completely asinine and harmful from paranoia melted administrators.”
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Some testimonials have been edited for clarity and to protect identities. This piece will be updated to include more responses