OPINION | Tulane continues to save face at cost of students’ well being

Lily Mae Lazarus, Views Editor

Spring 2021’s academic calendar is glaringly lacking real breaks. (Ashl)

Since August, Tulane University students have weathered the administrative pandemonium of the fall semester. Though many higher education institutions chose to conduct courses remotely due to legitimate public health concerns, Tulane made the decision to mandate in-person instruction. In doing so, the university exacerbated the endless, unwavering pressure of the coronavirus pandemic with an accelerated semester. Unsurprisingly, Tulanians returned to campus only to produce the inevitable outcomes of virus spreading, cabin fever and heightened stress levels

By expecting the student body to constantly obey the rules, navigate their collegiate careers during a global pandemic and achieve a healthy work-life balance, the administration further demonstrates its simplicity, utter lack of empathy, and blasé attitude regarding Tulanians’ well being. Yet, despite the evidential discontent and instability of the college students across the U.S., the university opted to do away with spring break, while expecting Tulane students to abide by COVID-19 guidelines, even during Mardi Gras. 

While it is understandable that the university hopes to regain some sense of normalcy, Tulane is attempting to do so not only at the cost of the New Orleans community but also the physical and mental health of students. The spring 2021 academic calendar will only produce the same negative results witnessed on campus this fall, if not to a more severe extent. 

Though the detrimental effects of COVID-19 on college students continues to be explored by researchers, there appears to be a consensus regarding the coronavirus’ negative impact on college students. A recent study by Texas A&M University found, of those studied, 71% of students reported increased stress, depressive thoughts and anxiety due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The study also identified specific stressors, including fear and worry about their own health and the health of their loved ones, difficulty concentrating, sleep pattern disruptions, decreased social interactions due to social distancing and increased concerns about academic performance. 

Similarly, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that a disproportionate number of 18 to 24-year-olds, close to one-quarter of those surveyed, reported seriously considering suicide within the 30 days prior to being surveyed. The CDC’s data reflected a separate report by the Student Experience in the Research University Consortium that both found that students are screening positive for depression and anxiety at higher rates than in previous years, and that students report the pandemic has hindered access to mental health care.

More concerning is the fact that multiple studies, including one conducted by Chegg found that the prospect of returning to campus this fall caused over 40% of students to feel anxious, and that only four of every 10 college students feel their universities take their mental health seriously. There is no reason to think students’ sentiments have changed since then. Despite the abundance of research demonstrating college students’ suffering during the pandemic, Tulane simply turned a blind eye to these concerns when creating the upcoming semester’s academic calendar. 

In fact, Tulane’s spring calendar is arguably worse than its fall plan. Not only is the administration shortening winter vacation by forcing students to return for early screening, it also eliminates spring break and expects classes to resume next-to-normal operating abilities regardless of the anxieties of students and professors alike.  

First, by calling students back to campus early, Tulane ignores the necessity for students to recuperate following a grueling, accelerated first semester that was riddled with technical problems, torturous workloads and multiple spikes in COVID-19 cases which, for many schools, would have been grounds to return home. While entry screening is important in the thwarting of the coronavirus, the university should have  planned accordingly so as to provide students with their rightfully earned time away from campus by mandating a 14-day quarantine beginning the first day of the second semester. 

Second, allotting two to three days off during the spring semester in no way compensates for a defined spring break. In the past, this short vacation allowed many students to return home and repose with their families. Now, when such comfort is a luxury, the administration once again usurps a sacred time of solace from Tulanians while expecting students to behave responsibly without critical coping mechanisms. The supposed “days off” will simply mirror the behavior witnessed over Halloween weekend, if not to a greater extent, thus causing a spike in COVID-19 cases. 

Third, in no way can the university honestly believe it can control student behavior during Mardi Gras and prevent a serious uptick in viral infection. Last year, Mardi Gras significantly contributed to the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, Mardi Gras increases population density in New Orleans, signals a massive influx of tourists and revolves around large in-person gatherings. With Mardi Gras festivities expected to occur this February, Tulane, under the guise of “keeping with our culture and the practices” of the local community, is doing no more than putting New Orleneans at risk. Realistically, students will engage in risky behavior, inhibitions will be numbed by alcohol consumption, contact tracing will be useless among the masses of potentially infected tourists, and yet the administration will once again blame students for negligence when they are truly liable.

With the inability to return home, take classes remotely due to legitimate anxieties and utilize key support systems, students are left with the coping mechanism of isolation or irresponsible behavior. Not only do these actions ferment the already negative emotional states of students, they also have tragic outcomes. 

Clearly, the administration has taken little from the example set by students nor have they learned anything from the hundreds of deaths of New Orleanians, a community the university proudly claims to call home. If Tulane truly cared about the New Orleans community or the student body, it would have sent students home with the first wave of increased COVID-19 cases to protect the already vulnerable local residents and the safety of students.  

Whether it be with the well being of the student body or the upholding of a false superiority by holding in-person classes, the administration must decide where its loyalty lies. Although the safest way for Tulane to conduct academic operations is remote learning, it is clear the university adamantly opposes such a concept. It is more than feasible to conduct classes remotely until after Mardi Gras to reduce the upcoming COVID-19 wave’s impact this February, and yet, the administration seems to welcome this inevitable chaos. Nonetheless, the university’s decisions this fall demonstrated repeated negligence and apathy which will only continue as the administration saves its image in sacrificing the student body.

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