Letter to the Editor: Students condemn reopening, urge Tulane to go online

Letter+to+the+Editor%3A+Students+condemn+reopening%2C+urge+Tulane+to+go+online

Tulane Student Action

Tulane Student Action is an independent, horizontally organized coalition of Tulane undergraduates united by the need for solidarity and action during the times of COVID-19. Their petition for Tulane to go online can be found here

On July 29, the Georgetown University president issued an announcement to students that classes would begin remotely, reversing the decision to invite students back to its main campus en masse for a hybrid semester.

On August 5, University of Southern California announced that it would begin the semester with online classes, making yet another revision to their reopening plan. 

On August 6, Johns Hopkins University announced that it would also be reversing its decision to hold hybrid classes and move to online learning, urging students not to return to Baltimore and promising a 10% decrease in undergrad tuition and increasing aid packages.

On August 17, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill announced that the university would switch to online classes after a week of in-person reopening. The dean of the School of Global Public Health released an announcement addressing financial stressors, university preparation, and ultimately uncontrollable external factors and risks that worked against reopening plans: “We have tried to make this work, but it is not working.”

As undergraduates at Tulane University who care about the well-being of ourselves, our peers and the New Orleans community, we urge administration to immediately transition back into a majority-online curriculum as we did last spring. The start of classes this week does not mean it is too late for us. We were interrupted last semester in the middle of our term, and though our transition to online learning was not perfect, Tulane made the right decision for the New Orleans and Louisiana communities. COVID-19 numbers after (and while) students left the city skyrocketed. NOLA became one of the nation’s hotspots for the spread of COVID-19, and experienced highly disproportionate health complications and mortality rates for Black citizens.

In these announcements to students listed above, university presidents and deans address many issues that we know the Tulane administration is facing now. UNC made a reopening plan like Tulane’s, called “Carolina Together,” which outlines levels of emergency and subsequent university actions. While addressing such reopening plans, the dean of the School of Global Public Health states the following in her announcement

“The rationale for taking an off-ramp now [moving to online instruction after planning on hybrid reopening] is that the number of clusters is growing and soon could become out of control, threatening the health of others on campus and in the community and putting scarce resources at risk. While it appeared that students on campus were compliant with distancing and mask use, reports of off-campus behavior showed a different pattern — drinking, no masks or distancing, and crowds. I do not have first-hand observations; this generalization reflects what has been reported and reflected in increases in numbers of cases, reflecting mostly dorm and fraternity-based clusters.”

We are already seeing this off-campus behavior happen here at Tulane. Take a stroll down Broadway and you will see students walking around without masks, drinks in hand hopping from one house to another. Bike down to the Fly and you will already see students and families — including Tulane-unaffiliated New Orleans community members — crowding around the river and parks. The evidence is in plain sight. How exactly will Tulane manage to magically solve the public health crises that higher-ed institutions across the country have been up against? What is the use of entertaining the possibility of an on-campus semester when there is so much at risk?

The solution to reopening during COVID is not concerns reports or more channels for “community policing.” The solution is not giving RAs and Waveleaders pep-talks on COVID safety so that they can go and break up gatherings or remind students to wear masks, putting themselves at risk. The solution is not scapegoating student workers who help Tulane with move-in, New Student Orientation, and other reopening jobs as the primary defense for student health. We know the money that Tulane has invested into reopening campus. We understand how much energy the university has expended on thinking up solutions to COVID reopening, including new infrastructure and testing protocols. Our Outlook inboxes are so full of reopening information and updates, we’re all trying to keep up. However, even after all the emails, COVID testing appointments, and newsletters, there is no amount of communication that will make reopening completely safe or address all of our questions & concerns. 

And so, what are we students of Tulane University, as well as faculty and staff, left to do? Must we wait until an outbreak begins? That’s already happening, too! Tulane and Loyola students living off-campus are experiencing a breakout of COVID amongst friend groups, through person-to-person contact (someone got it from a friend who got it from a friend who got it from …) or via large groups (unofficial parties at Broadway houses and other social gatherings among housemates and neighbors). Whatever steps the university takes to secure against COVID, there will be no way to make up for all the risks constantly happening outside our very small campus and downtown locations. Tulane can implement all the rules and punitive measures in the world, but even if students who violate COVID-19 restrictions are sent home, suspended or expelled, conduct measures will have no actual effect on the spread of the virus: COVID-19 will spread regardless of whether people get in trouble or not. Tulane’s insistence that many cases in our age group are “asymptomatic” is ableist and does not lessen the severity of transmission.

New Orleans was already in the public eye this summer due to some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections per capita and disproportionate Black mortality rates. Will you, Tulane Administration, choose to carry on with a majority-in-person reopening plan until our university’s name and transmission rates plaster the news, too?

We students have no illusions that this semester in-person will actually last. In a peer-led survey which reached more than 1,000 participants, 74% of students expressed no or little confidence at all that Tulane will remain open the whole semester as planned, and only 2.6% of students were very confident (see @tulanestudentaction on insta). Waiting to make the transition into online learning only hurts us. We beg of you to not allow the Tulane students, workers and New Orleans community be guinea pigs for what is essentially a fully-funded large-scale science experiment. Please follow in the footsteps of Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, UNC, Columbia, Barnard, Yale, Harvard, UPenn and a growing number of peer institutions across the country who have decided to continue prioritizing online learning as the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic presses on. Please make the right decision.

In frustration and hope,

Deeply concerned TU students

Tulane Student Action (@tulanestudentaction)