I am descending my ivory tower as the Opinions Editor to write a serious opinion piece. I have not shared my opinions often, as doing so threatens my reputation as a neutral journalist writing articles about SGA and protests in and around Wheaton’s campus. I think that the response of the Wheaton Administration regarding the Coronavirus crisis has been phenomenal this semester. However, there have been multiple decisions made by the Wheaton Administration during the past week that have forced me to speak up, as I (simply and nicely put) do not agree with them.
The first incident I want to comment on is the recent expulsion (from campus housing) of a female Wheaton student following an incident with Norton PD Officers.
This incident was recently reported on by Kavita Premkumar ’21 and Carter Wilhite ’22 in the Wheaton Wire while covering Wheaton’s weekly SGA meeting. According to Premkumar’s article, there is no footage of the event with the students and the officers, and no information has been released to the public or the Wheaton community regarding the incident. I am not here to discuss the specifics of the incident or the innocence or guilt of the individual.
The second incident was an email sent by Dean of Students, Zack Irish, to the students on Oct. 28 on behalf of the Covid Testing Team. The email states that there has been an uptick in testing non-compliance among the student body in recent weeks. The email claimed that over 100 students have not completed the four required tests in those two weeks. The email goes on to threaten the ‘guest privileges’ of students (to have one, or two guests, depending on room size) if non-compliance does not decrease.
I am here to discuss the administration’s response to the first incident within the context of the second announcement, which was to suspend the individual from on-campus housing until she attends an on-campus conduct hearing, which will take at least a week to be conducted. In my mind, it is incredibly irresponsible for the college to claim to be concerned about testing non-compliance among the student population, but then kick a student off campus during the coronavirus pandemic, which would not allow that student to be tested and continue to comply with campus health and safety regulations. Kicking a student off campus and then reintroducing them back onto campus for their hearing increases the risk of introducing another case of COVID-19 to the campus, and is unbelievably short-sighted. Kicking the student off campus introduces a host of other problems for them, such as food, internet to complete remote classes, and you know, HOUSING (during a global pandemic).
I do agree with the administration that testing non-compliance needs to be decreased, but I think that the administration is overestimating the degree of malice exhibited by students who are not getting tested, and I think their decision to threaten student ‘guest privileges’ shows that they attribute this problem to malice.
I, myself, missed a test last week, which I simply slept through, and I can tell you, the idea that I was putting my friends at risk because of my forgetfulness was punishment enough. I did not want to harm my fellow students and would have rescheduled it if that had not resulted in myself being tested two days in a row. There was zero malice in my actions, and I decreased how much I hung out with my friends that week to make up for the fact that I missed one test.
Lastly, I think that revoking ‘guest privileges’ would not only harm the student population as a whole, but would actually end up with larger amounts of non-compliance overall. The reason I think this is the case is due to the fact that the weather is getting colder, meaning fewer people are inclined to go outside to hang out, and I think more people will be leaning on the guest policy to keep their sanity and safely hang out with their friends. I am actually in favor of increasing the number of guests allowed in rooms. I think Wheaton has been mostly successful in creating a bubble and people going off campus potentially break the bubble harder than friends on campus entering each other’s rooms. Due to the cold weather, being able to enter each other’s rooms is more important overall, and I raise issues with the administration treating Wheaton students like toddlers and threatening to take away visitation privileges in this way. I also think that repealing the guest policy would actually lead to increased non-compliance, as students’ sanity and mental health will not survive a winter in isolation, and they will simply go to their friends’ rooms anyways.
However, I’m most upset about the way that these two incidents reveal the punitory mindset of the Wheaton Administration, with concern for students seeming to be secondary. Is the administration concerned about stopping the spread of the virus? If so, why are they kicking a student off campus during a global pandemic? If so, why are they threatening to take away the safest option for students to gather during cold months? Does the administration want all its students to be tested multiple times per week? If so, why are they kicking a student off campus and preventing them from doing just that?
I want to reinforce my belief that the Wheaton Administration has done a FANTASTIC job of running the school during this Fall semester with regards to COVID-19. We have had fewer cases than many other similar schools, and I personally have felt very safe on campus this semester, with little disruption of my day-to-day life. However, I think the administration has REALLY dropped the ball this week with these two incidents. I recommend that the administration immediately allow the student who was kicked off of campus to return to campus, repeal their threat to strip ‘guest privileges,’ and issue an apology to the Wheaton Community for these recent actions. Some explanation for their thought process, or opening a dialogue with myself and/or other members of the community would also be a sign of good faith from the administration, and I would like nothing more than to write a follow-up article stating that the Wheaton Administration is once again on track in their course of action, similar to how it has been for most of the semester, but I simply cannot do that at this time.