Staff Editorial: In response to Winter Term decisions

In light of the recent announcement that Winter and Spring Terms will operate almost identically to Fall Term, it is now the time for us to consider the options presented before us.

The question of whether or not to return to campus is a personal one, and it is something that many of us are still trying to make a definite decision about. While there are those who would return to campus in a heartbeat, there are also a number of us who are very hesitant to return due to a variety of important factors, including tuition, class availability, mental and physical health and safety. As such, the Lawrence administration has left the decision largely up to the students as individuals so that everyone can make the safest choice for themselves.

On the whole, we, as an editorial board, agree with the plan to allow students to make their own decisions about their education, be it online, hybrid or in-person. However, one red flag stood out in the sea of text in the email that all students, faculty and staff received: spring break.

According to President Mark Burstein’s email regarding the next two terms, students will be allowed to travel for a 10-day spring break in March before returning to campus for the start of Spring Term on the condition that students “follow the Pledge in their travels.” But the reality is, it’s just not a rational expectation for the hundreds of students who will be living on campus to all follow the guidelines set by the university when school is the last thing anyone wants to think about on break. It is also a confusing decision for the administration to make considering we were not even trusted with a full reading period this term but, instead, were offered separate days in the middle of the week to discourage students from leaving campus. Therefore, it should be the administration’s job to make accommodations and changes to their current plans for spring break. 

For students with access to a car who live within driving distance of campus, travelling home for a week to see family while still following the Pledge is entirely feasible. Most of the student body does not have that option, though. For those of us who have to fly across the country or even across an ocean in order to get back home, following the Pledge might not be possible — no matter how many precautions we follow.

Air travel in the time of COVID-19 is dangerous no matter what, and spring break is only going to exacerbate that danger. As one of the busiest travel seasons of the year — usually due to high volumes of high school and college students heading to the beach for a week of non-stop, wall-to-wall parties — this is not exactly the ideal time to send students away. Even if they take every precaution, the risk of COVID-19 infection will skyrocket, and the chance of an outbreak at the beginning of Spring Term seems high.

Students should not be forced to choose between potentially exposing themselves to a deadly virus and staying alone on an empty campus for two weeks. The administration needs to recognize and acknowledge that they don’t want students to leave for spring break, and they need to make sure that all students feel like they have the option to stay.

One way that the administration could actively encourage students to stay on campus for spring break is by expanding the activities they offer during that period. Staying in a dorm alone for two weeks while the Fox Valley rages with COVID-19 infection is not particularly enticing for anyone, but students might be persuaded to remain on campus if there are things to look forward to that keep them inside our Lawrence bubble. Along with that, facilities should remain open for spring break so that students have other places to go besides their room that don’t involve going out into the larger Appleton area. We shouldn’t feel like we have to risk travel during a pandemic in order to have a fun and relaxing spring break.

Now, if the administration won’t take this step, the responsibility then falls upon us as students to make the tough decisions regarding travel in order to keep campus safe. We cannot risk potentially losing all of Spring Term because we have been presented the option to leave. Students must take it upon themselves to keep their travel limited and their circles small to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially during break. Administration isn’t willing to say it, or at least not yet, but spring break could prove to be our beautiful bubble’s greatest threat.