In the post-Zoom University age of all in-person classes, we’re all longing for a return to normalcy. We want back our tailgates, Marathon Mondays, and the ability to wear glasses to class without getting them fogged up by a mask. We want to run into a random acquaintance from our freshman year Perspectives class in the bathroom at the bar. Most of all, we desperately want COVID to stop mutating into the entire Greek alphabet (the last thing this country needs is another Frat Row).
As much as we wish for those things, the harsh reality is that wanting them doesn’t overpower the threat the pandemic continues to pose, and our school is trotting along into blissful ignorance as we unwittingly press rewind.
There are many voices and arguments being heard about how Boston College should be handling this academic year, but the university itself has been notably absent from the conversation. We are the only school in and around Boston without a campus mask mandate, granting students and faculty the ability to decide for themselves when and if they want to wear a mask. Boston College hasn’t sealed off our campus to the public, as nearby Wellesley College has; yet, the administration remains steadfast in its resistance to the Newton and Boston mandates, claiming that our buildings are for students and faculty alone. Rather, mask mandates have been quietly pinned to the doors of Lower Live and other public campus dining halls as a result of citywide policy, severely lacking in both announcement and enforcement. It seems to be less of an attempt to protect students and staff and more of an attempt to skirt critique.
But there remains a significant degree of pushback from members of the BC community. The history department sent out an email clarifying the Newton and Boston mask mandates in public spaces because the university failed to provide that information, with the department encouraging students and faculty to remain wary of a pandemic that is not yet over. Over 200 faculty members signed on to an open letter calling BC’s decision irresponsible and calling for a mandate on campus. Without one, professors living with immunocompromised family members or young children unable to get vaccinated are forced to beg their students to mask up in class as the administration sits idly, and the spread of the "BC Throat Tickle" isn’t doing us any favors, either. Sitting in classrooms where not everybody feels entirely safe is heartbreaking. The university should aim to protect its people, not ignore them.
Those who take measures to protect themselves are not given the resources to adequately do so. Students are rejected if they request an asymptomatic screening, and emails to report for asymptomatic testing are few and far between, arriving in the inbox every couple of sporadic weeks. When randomized testing is conducted, test results can often take quite a long time to be returned. In speaking with several students who have tested positive this year, I learned that the protocol is vague to the point of frustration. It often takes hours to reach Health Services on the phone, and the turnaround between testing positive and being given your next steps regarding isolation and contact tracing takes almost 24 hours. This leaves students and their friends at odds for days, uncertain as to how they should be living their lives.
Off-campus students who test positive are given the choice of remaining in their off-campus residence or getting shipped off to Pine Manor isolation housing (I imagine this to be a painstakingly difficult decision to make). Roommates and other contacts traced are gently prodded to get tested the following day and wear a mask pending the results of that test (monitored by faith, evidently). They can attend class in too-cramped classrooms and wait in the Hillside mosh pit—as long as they make sure to wear a mask!
As much as I wish it were so, we don’t get to decide when this pandemic is over, and we are still in the thick of it. Most of the people roaming around our campus are young, healthy, and unworried about extreme sickness, but not all of us. The vaccine safety blanket is but a blanket, not a coat of armor. We know from last year that Boston College has the resources, the capacity, and the knowledge to handle COVID; that’s not the issue. Rather, and arguably much more alarmingly, our school has withdrawn its sense of necessity in a time when we need them to step it up. In this withdrawal, we remain a perpetual threat to each other.
BC: Do better.