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The reopening picture at this NC campus is not a pretty one

Photo by Appalachian State University (Website photo: AppState.edu)

Aug. 13. OPINION. By Thomas McLamb/NC Policy Watch. As with the other UNC System campuses, students began to return to Appalachian State this week, and the circumstances surrounding their arrival ought to give all North Carolinians cause for concern.

Despite an outbreak of COVID-19 cases on the Boone campus just last week, thousands of students from across the country moved in to either off-campus apartments or small, shared dorm rooms on campus. University Housing has clear guidelines stating that students may be accompanied by only one family member or helper during move-in, but just a short drive through campus — or a glance at the scenes outside many dorms — indicated that these policies were being blatantly disregarded.

Neither students, nor family members who accompanied them, were required to take a COVID-19 test prior to returning to campus, even though many would be meeting new roommates, usually for the first time. Instead, the university promised to engage in more extensive sanitization in the dorms. However, in the early days of move-in week, it became very clear that ASU housing was not fulfilling those promises.

Back in the spring, ASU sent students home for the remainder of the school year. However, some students remained on-campus during the summer semesters — whether out of housing necessity or in order to participate in summer athletics programs. Apparently, some students who moved out late left their dorm rooms in filthy condition. According to one student who moved into Mountaineer Hall over the weekend, when she arrived there was trash, including dirty masks and food crumbs, strewn on the floor, and the surfaces were dirty. The mess had presumably been left by the previous resident.

This is an unacceptable situation. For the university to direct students into dorm rooms that had recently been vacated, yet had not been sanitized makes a mockery of health and safety.

On Monday, Aug. 10, hundreds more students moved into their new dormitories. That day while driving through town around lunchtime, I witnessed many crowds of half a dozen or so people gathered in the parking lots of Cone, Cannon, and Summit halls, though only a few people were wearing masks. Many of the students and their parents or friends stood close to one another with no masks. Meanwhile, masked police officers and traffic attendants looked on, either oblivious to the breach in university mask policy that was happening just feet from them, or apathetic to this behavior.

That evening, students began sharing on social media reports of parties. One account reported that at least 30 students were seen at a party the previous Saturday; they weren’t wearing masks, nor were they social distancing. Meanwhile, other students begged for people to respect Gov. Cooper’s pandemic safety guidelines.

One student responded to these parties, stating, “It’s like speaking to a wall. These students don’t give a —-, really.” More students commented that they had already seen several fraternity parties, and I myself had seen several of these gatherings while I drove down Oak Street, just a stone’s toss away from ASU’s campus. And a delivery driver stated that on several occasions they had brought food to multiple parties hosted by ASU students over the weekend.

By bringing students back to campus, the ASU administration not only has failed to protect the safety of all of those living in Boone, but also has failed in nearly every way in its response to the COVID-19 crisis. Some observers have defended Chancellor Sheri Everts by noting that she is merely following the lead of other universities in the UNC System and its leadership. But how can, “following orders,” be a valid excuse when such action (or inaction) could well lead to illness and even death in the ASU community?

The university, and frankly the UNC system as a whole, have largely ignored the scientific community and the advice of public health experts on the spread of COVID-19. Administrators have refused to mandate COVID-19 tests for the tens of thousands of outside residents coming to the university. They have failed to provide sanitary conditions for incoming students. And they have refused to acknowledge their failure at containing the virus.

What’s more, while almost every member of the faculty and staff at the university with whom I’ve spoken has stated they would teach fully online if possible, the administration has forced large numbers of professors and other instructors to do so in-person. If the university fails to provide sanitary conditions in their very own housing units, how can anyone feel confident or safe in attending classes in person?

I fear that it will only be a week or two before students are sent home from their dorms, and classes are shifted to online instruction. At the time of writing, there are nine active cases of COVID-19 among university employees and 13 among students — numbers that will likely spike in the coming days and weeks.

And when that happens, it will be obvious that the the university’s reopening decisions have not been motivated by science or the public health needs of the university or the town of Boone. Instead, it will be clear that administrators’ apathetic and shortsighted decisions will have jeopardized thousands of people and, quite possibly caused significant serious illness and even death.

If that occurs, the administration and Chancellor Everts should be held directly responsible for their failure to enact proper policies in response to this crisis.

Thomas McLamb is a graduate student at Appalachian State. ASU Prof. Jeffrey Bortz contributed to this article.

This article was courtesy of NC Policy Watch. The original article can be found here.



17 Responses to “The reopening picture at this NC campus is not a pretty one”

  1. Hey! No surprise here. What do you expect when the national leader preaches opening schools at full steam ahead? How do you expect students to act any differently from what they are being told by the “non-scientific” community? Maybe this will be a (not good) learning experience.

    Posted by Ken | August 13, 2020, 1:53 pm
    • Don’t put this on the “National leader”! These aren’t children and they know state guidelines. If they can’t use common sense it’s on them. I do agree university officials should be enforcing guidelines better than they are.

      Posted by OneNightOwl | August 16, 2020, 12:55 pm
  2. As a resident of Boone, I see them and parents coming into town showing no regard for Boone or its citizens.
    The kids think that they own the town.. Shame on ASU the students and parents.. I was hell going through town.

    Posted by Jon Menard | August 13, 2020, 6:36 pm
  3. I agree, everywhere I have gone in Boone in the past week there are crowds of people without masks, even at Trash Can Falls where there were people of all ages without masks in overcrowded parking lots. It doesn’t matter what “guidelines” the university puts on the students, they will do what they want to, where they want to, putting our community in danger. Watch the numbers increase and overwhelm our hospital and medical personnel. Sending our children back to school would be a much safer alternative than allowing the university to re-open to on-campus students. The County and Town did this because of the income from off-campus student apartment rent. And now they’re allowing a student member of their councils – student with 4-5 years of residency!

    Posted by Karen James | August 13, 2020, 9:49 pm
    • I totally disagree with the notion of putting students on the Town of Boone Council. They have no say because they don’t pay the taxes. I was floored when I saw a member of the Town Council campaigning on campus! What business do they have telling us what laws and ordinances to follow when they aren’t here 365 days a year for a minimum of 4 years of legitimate residency.

      Posted by Grace | August 14, 2020, 8:43 am
  4. What are y’all talking about? This is blatant lies I live in Boone what are you actually talking about? App state is doing the exact same thing as every other campus in North Carolina. I’m confused on why y’all are coming after App specifically. Go after every university no just one it doesn’t make sense. They are all doing the same thing and they are all driven by money bc of course it is we live in a capitalist society. App seems to be doing better than some other NC universities. Some of them aren’t even cleaning dorms meanwhile App has completely brand new dorms never lived in. Just keep the same energy for every university if your going to come after one for this go after them all.

    Posted by Christie | August 13, 2020, 10:10 pm
    • Right! What else would any one expect? All schools are going to face similar issues and behaviors. Why single out App State?

      The real issue is whether or not universities and the public schools are going to continue to fulfill their mission to provide quality education for our youth or let overwrought whiners use fear mongering histrionics to degrade and diminish public education.

      Posted by Ev | August 15, 2020, 6:53 pm
  5. What a whiny loser!

    Posted by Puddin Tain | August 13, 2020, 10:37 pm
  6. the people who wrote this article have guts, and as a guy who has lived in Boone since 2001, am really grateful to them

    Chancelor Everts… not much. Way overpaid, way underperforms.

    Still, I hope it isn’t her death from the virus that precipitates her replacement. Common sense would be better.

    Posted by michael s zimmerman | August 13, 2020, 10:41 pm
  7. What a weak article. Put your mask on and go back into hiding! What kind of weak person hides from something that has almost zero chance of hurting them. Mask dont work against viruses and if anyone is afraid put your little mask on and stay home.

    Posted by James | August 14, 2020, 6:16 am
    • Hey! The non-scientific community raises its resistance here, using of course a non-scientific spokesman who knows more than the scientists. Be careful, the next thing he will try to convince you is that the world is flat and the devil is looking for sexual partners among those wearing masks. Obviously this guy could benefit from a science class at ASU, but then he would probably flunk out.

      Posted by Ken | August 14, 2020, 1:17 pm
    • Lord-you need some education!!

      Posted by Mary Stuart | August 16, 2020, 9:25 am
  8. Try to find a student at ASU that does not know everything about the Coronavirus inside and out. No vaccine for a flu type virus is 100% successful. The virus will inevitably be with us for the foreseeable future. Will you be calling for the University to shut down 10 years from now if we have 20 cases when students come back? By then University would be totally online with no need for dorms or a plethora of professors and coaches! No one to hold accountable as you say.
    Your diatribe is an excellent example of a liberal elitist wishing to eliminate the ability of your inferiors to make their own decisions. Damn the repercussions to the economy and the educational system.

    Posted by Steve Rash | August 14, 2020, 9:20 am
  9. As a resident of Blowing Rock and a graduate of App State, let me first state that I hope this article was submitted as an opinion piece vs. a serious attempt at journalism. The writer (apparently a current grad student) has filled the article with his own opinions and inflammatory language to exclusively push his own narrative. So now I will…

    We get it…he doesn’t want the students on campus. He would prefer to teach remotely. Fortunately, for the students and their collective investments in a college education, this was NOT his decision to make.

    I have seen quite a different picture with students than the one that this writer paints. I was in Boone and around campus this week as students were moving back in, and I have seen them wearing masks everywhere I went. I did see instances of students temporarily taking off masks while they were speaking with their families, but I frankly see more defiant “locals” hanging out in groups around town without face coverings than I do with students or parents.

    All I can say is that this writer is certainly off to a great start as an academic elitist.
    Long may he roar!

    Posted by John Gibbs | August 14, 2020, 11:16 am
    • Yeah. If you can’t refute the reporting then you resort to name calling (elitist, liberal, etc.). Typical tactic of the right-wing spokespeople. They learned it from their leader (DT).

      Posted by Ken | August 14, 2020, 1:21 pm
  10. Boone is a university town and that is partially what makes it a great place to live. Of course we are going to see more cases as the students come back and they should return to the classrooms. Those that have the need to avoid the virus need to be responsible for themselves and take the precautions they must. I think this fear pedaling is detrimental to the health of our society.

    Posted by Eileen Hatcher | August 15, 2020, 7:11 am
  11. When are people going to take responsibility for themselves and those around them? Those parents should have been setting an example to their children, and to other students- you can’t blame everything on a school, on police, on government.

    Complacency is the same as saying you agree with the situation. Parties should have been reported and citations written up – if a pizza delivery person shows up at a party with a large amount of people, as a citizen, it is their responsibility to report the issue. I for one, am tired of everyone blaming some of this on institutions – I wear a mask, you wear a mask, I would be devastated if I spread COVID to ANYONE, regardless of age, color, creed or religion.

    Believe me, I am so ready to get out of this mode of isolation, as most of us are. It is bad for our mental health and our need to associate with other human beings. Most of us who attended college understand the vast amount of socializing that is everywhere on campus (or off campus).
    True, we can’t monitor everyone, everywhere – we have to monitor ourselves and care for other people.

    Posted by L Hodges | August 19, 2020, 11:08 am

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