Dear Union College Community,
Over the past several months, we have been working hard to identify and implement actions, and health and safety protocols, that will enable our return to campus. Over the past few weeks, Union College faculty and staff have started returning to campus. And over the past few days, students from select states have begun arriving for a 14-day quarantine mandated by New York State. As exciting as it is to see our campus come to life, my emotions are tempered by what we’ve all seen unfolding at some institutions that have already started their fall terms.
Every day this week, college and university presidents have communicated troubling news.
- On Monday, a prestigious liberal arts college announced that because a student who tested positive for COVID-19 had not followed quarantine protocols, an entire residence hall of more than 150 students would be quarantined for two weeks.
- On Tuesday, a highly-regarded private university suspended in-person undergraduate classes for two weeks due to a large and growing number of COVID-19 cases, with many infections connected to off-campus activities.
- On Wednesday, a flagship public university reported 177 students had tested positive for COVID-19 and another 349 were in quarantine. Clusters were linked to dorms, apartments, and a fraternity house. The remainder of their semester will be conducted online, with almost all undergraduates required to leave campus after just one week of classes.
- And yesterday, a private university in New York declared that the more than 100 students who gathered on campus to socialize, many without masks, had put the residential term at risk. Later in the day, a second message indicated that 23 students have been suspended.
While we recognize there is a risk that our community members will become infected with COVID-19, we are certain that our efforts to contain the spread of any infections will be unsuccessful if our students, faculty, and staff do not prioritize health and safety over a return to normal interactions.
Union is an exceptional community, but we are not immune from the inclinations that are plaguing reopening plans at many colleges and universities. We do, however, have two critical advantages. First, our partnership with the Broad Institute allows for more frequent, rapid, and reliable testing than most colleges and universities can provide. Second, we start later than most schools, and so can learn from their experiences. No one in our community will be able to claim ignorance if failure to follow health and safety guidance leads to infections or the cessation of on-campus activities.
I know that this term will be difficult for us all. I know what it feels like to see a friend after many months and resist giving a hug or a handshake. I know what it feels like to wear a mask when it is hot or when it interferes with verbal and nonverbal communication. I know what it is like to communicate by Zoom when gathering in person would be more fun and more familiar.
Our commitment to these and other inconveniences are the keys to starting and completing our term on campus without interruption. If we are to be on this campus, to engage in face-to-face activities, and keep our friends, family, neighbors, and community members safe, it is up to all of us to follow health and safety protocols and to hold one another accountable to our shared expectations.
As our motto says: Under the laws of Minerva, we all become brothers and sisters. Never has this been more true.
And now, I’m off to Memorial Fieldhouse to welcome some of the students who are being tested and will then begin their mandated quarantine period.
Be well, and I’ll see you soon.