Inside the slow-moving disaster of students returning to campus

It takes a lot of hubris to keep running the experiment of college reopening not just after students and teacher have raised reasonable concerns, but as other schools start to experience rapid outbreaks. As cases rose on various campuses over the past few weeks, the natural question to ask was what the students who got sick had been doing, to focus the blame for a public health failing on individual behavior. But by attempting a configuration that encourages many students to come back to campus life, it’s the universities that are burdening students, some of whom feel they have to be there to complete the basics of their work and research, or who feel a sense of duty to fulfill their jobs in resident halls. Students stand to take the fall if things go poorly.

Even if things go well, infection-wise, at any particular campus, there will be a psychological toll just in spending this fall hewing to the extreme rules campus life requires or coping with the uncertainty. The hotel where the Wellesley RA is quarantining is v-shaped, and students have been putting up signs in their windows to communicate with one another. On her window is a set of Post-it notes, arranged in the shape of a frowny face.