University of Richmond students began an email campaign this week expressing concerns about the new COVID-19 guidelines and demanding resources to prevent the spread of the virus.
Administrators informed the campus community that UR would be opening the spring semester in the Lime Stage of the Physical Distancing Framework among other updates, in an email sent out on Monday. The announcement, however, came just days after the City of Richmond hit a new daily record of over 600 new cases of COVID-19.
The spring opening guidelines also require students to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arrival to campus, according to the email outlined by David Hale, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Jeffrey Legro, executive vice president and provost, and Shannon Sinclair, vice president and general counsel.
Students began organizing an email campaign voicing their concerns about UR’s response to COVID-19 and the lack of resources for students on Tuesday. The email template also mentioned that other institutions, like Harvard University, Cornell University and the University of Michigan, had already decided on later spring semester start dates, required booster shots or switched to remote learning.
“At this rate, it is difficult to comprehend the decisions of this administration in refusing to offer comprehensive mitigation efforts,” the email template states.
Junior Simone Reid, one of the authors of the email template, wrote in an email to The Collegian that the campaign was organized to show the administration that students were concerned.
“Like always, we want to continue to put pressure on the administration and force them to value lives over profit,” she wrote. “Emails are simple, but impactful when sent en masse. Though we are at home for break, this action hopes to show both future students and admin that we continue to have power and influence.”
In the case of in-person instruction, the campaign demands that UR provide the following resources:
- A remote learning option for those in our community who are not comfortable or otherwise vulnerable;
- Mandatory testing upon arrival;
- Free KN94-N95 masks;
- Accessible, free testing on campus;
- Booster requirement;
- Mandatory weekly PCR testing;
- Honest reporting on the COVID dashboard.
The email recipient list is addressed to over 20 members of UR’s administration, according to the template. Students were also encouraged to send it to faculty and staff members for support.
“This institution cannot continue to value profit over the health and safety of our community,” the template states. “We cannot continue to work under these conditions that endanger our lives and mental wellbeing. With these measures, sickness will be prevented and we can avoid any unnecessary tragedy.”
Jasmine Walker, a junior and one of the authors of the email template, wrote in an email to The Collegian that she hoped UR realized that it would be putting students at risk of contracting COVID-19. She said she was worried that pre-arrival testing would not be enough.
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“I hope that the University realizes that COVID-19 can be a serious and life-threatening virus for some,” Walker wrote. “Bringing students back to campus and pretending like everything is normal during a time when things are worse than ever before is unbelievable.”
UR retains its commitment to make adjustments necessary for the well-being of the community, Cynthia Price, associate vice president of media and public relations, wrote in an email to The Collegian. Price also wrote that students expressed a preference for in-person learning and on-campus living.
“Maintaining the highest quality educational experience for our students delivered in a manner that supports the health and overall well-being of our community continues to drive our decision-making concerning the pandemic,” she wrote.
Junior Yasmin Sykes said that she was supportive of the measures UR was taking for spring semester move-in. Mandatory testing upon arrival, one of the demands of the email campaign, would not really have any benefits, she said.
“Once people get back to campus, they're going to go grocery shopping, they're going to go out to eat, we're gonna go buy school supplies or wherever,” Sykes said. “And it's not really feasible to just assume nobody's going to leave campus once they get there, and I feel like that’s the main idea behind testing on arrival.”
Sykes said the school could not base all of its decisions solely on COVID-19’s transmission rate. There have been studies about anxiety symptoms, depression and adult hospital visits for self harm that have increased during the pandemic, she said, mentioning an article by Johns Hopkins University professor and public policy researcher Dr. Marty Makary.
“I think that what the school has planned at the moment is a good balance between minimizing community spread and also minimizing the impact that those measures will have on students' well-being,” Sykes said. “In my opinion, they found a good balance between those things right now, so I'm not sure that we're going to see any action on [the email campaign].”
First-year Victoria Galdamez said that she understood why some students would be opposed to the email campaign, but did not agree with them. As a native of the city, she said the COVID-19 conditions had worsened, and didn’t seem to be getting better.
“The school says they will provide some form of testing for people, but there's a massive shortage, and I don't know if they're going to be able to actually follow through,” she said. “And the whole five-day quarantine that the school said they were going to do if people tested positive — I just don't think five days cuts it.”
Junior Jean Azar-Tanguay voiced the same concerns about the testing procedures. She said she had been lucky to find a PCR test, but that not everyone was able to.
“I understand testing is costly, but if we are living in this community, it would be in everyone’s best interest to track the virus down before it spreads too much,” she said, “and since tests in the community are hard to find, I wish school would be more willing to provide them when students ask, even if they don’t have every symptom under the sun.”
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