Colleges and the Coronavirus


The day I heard the news, on May 21st, I was shocked.

The United States was still in a pandemic, North Carolina was set to enter Phase 2 the next day and I was in the middle of planning a parade for seniors at my high school alma mater since they couldn’t have a traditional graduation.

Yet, here was my beloved alma mater, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) – the two largest institutions of higher learning in the state – announcing that classes would start, in person, on August 10th.

Wait. What?

For real?

This must be a joke.

Surely, they aren’t going to allow thousands of college students to return to campus in the middle of a global crisis that’s rooted in social distancing and wearing masks. Surely, they aren’t going to allow thousands of college students to return to the same campuses they abruptly shut down in March because we were in the middle of this same pandemic.

Make it make sense, ya’ll.

Well, according to the decision makers they had in a plan in place. Class sizes would be reduced. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines would be followed and encouraged. Fall break was eliminated. And the semester would end before Thanksgiving since there’s a prediction by scientists and doctors that a second wave would hit us like a tsunami in the fall or winter.

The plan was there.

What could possibly go wrong?!

On Monday, August 17th, one week after classes began at UNC-CH, the school announced that they would halt all in-person undergraduate classes and would transition to online classes beginning Wednesday, August 19th.

One week.

The experiment had already failed. I guess no one saw this coming.

The week that classes began I monitored the news closely as there was a constant update of new clusters of the virus being reported on campus. Between August 14th and 17th, four new clusters had been discovered.

I guess no one saw this coming.

There were more than 500 students in isolation due to being infected or had possible exposure to the virus. Some students were being quarantined in hotels because there wasn’t enough space for isolation on campus.

UNC-CH Chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, quickly directed the blame at students who gathered at parties off-campus in large numbers without masks or social distancing. In an interview with WRAL, senior Tamiya Troy noted that she and other students lobbied administrators for months to keep classes online for the fall semester.

I guess no one saw this coming.

Down Interstate 40, NC State seemed to be faring well until it wasn’t. While the first week of classes didn’t bring any news of clusters, the second week did. On Tuesday, August 18th, the school announced it had identified a cluster and multiple cases that were attributed to an off-campus party.

By Thursday, August 20th, NC State had three clusters, seven fraternity and sorority houses in quarantine and 500 students in isolation due to infections and possible exposure. On the same day, Chancellor Randy Woodson announced that all undergraduate classes would transition to an online setting beginning Monday, August 24th. He, too, placed blamed on students who gathered in large numbers.

I guess no one saw this coming.

Every time I think about these scenarios I’m baffled. K-12 schools diligently prepared all summer for a virtual curriculum. Governor Roy Cooper has held us in Phase 2 for three months with a limited capacity of people inside at 10 and outside at 25. The CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, still recommend people staying six feet apart from each other and wearing masks to be the safest way to prevent the virus from spreading.

Yet somehow the decision makers thought sending thousands of 18-22-year old students back to attend college in person would somehow magically not cause a drastic rise in cases.

Make it make sense, ya’ll.

This was NEVER a good idea.


If you’ve been to college then you know this firsthand. Even if you haven’t been to college you know this wasn’t a good idea especially if you’ve already lived through the ages of 18 to 22. In addition to my majors and minor of communication, journalism and parks, recreation and tourism management, there’s one subject I know as well as I do those three: social life. That’s literally what college is about. Yes, you’re there to get a good education, learn a lot of stuff and graduate. But if you didn’t enjoy college, socially, did you really get the full college experience?

To expect students to go to college and not gather in large groups is like asking a mosquito to go outside and not bite someone, it’s impossible. Yes, students needed to adhere to the warnings and guidelines that have been distributed for months. However, the adults in charge should’ve enacted their expertise that they are getting paid a lot of money to use to make a decision that wasn’t rooted in money but the well-being of all who would be affected by the decision.

If you don’t want college students to party then don’t provide them with an atmosphere where it’s guaranteed to happen. By allowing students to return to campus, you’re providing them with an atmosphere where partying will take place and the virus will spread.

Make it make sense, ya’ll.

Both institutions have said that students can cancel their housing contracts without penalty. At NC State, students will be reimbursed a prorated amount for housing and dining based on the number of days they’ve lived on campus.

Transitioning to online classes is a reactive move to a situation that required decision makers to be proactive. Now, as these two colleges work to reduce the number of students on campus, families are having to scramble to arrange a time to pick up their student they just dropped off two weeks ago. In the middle of a pandemic.

Make it make sense, ya’ll.

I know in the coming days, weeks and months, there will be a lot of meetings and discussions had about what went wrong, what could’ve been done better and how to move forward. My hope is that there is a focus on how to adjust to what’s happening in our world as opposed to trying to make the norm fit into a space that is no longer normal.

To me, that makes sense.


Kassaundra Shanette Lockhart is a freelance writer who party hops daily and is thankful for all those on the frontlines working to slow down this pandemic. God bless you!


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