University President Bob Fisher reaffirmed in an email that Belmont students can return to campus on Sept. 4 if they feel comfortable — a possibility making many students cautious.
But this return to campus can only be successful if students avoid irresponsible campus behavior, such as attending large gatherings, in order to maintain a healthy campus, said Fisher.
“For this reason we are implementing another new health and safety protocol for students that we will consider a requirement under our Staying Healthy, Together commitment. Students may not organize, host, promote or attend large on or off campus gatherings, parties, concerts or other events that go against our guidelines for gatherings where mask wearing and social distancing cannot be properly observed,” said Fisher in the email.
The result of engaging in any large gatherings could result in temporary suspension, restricted access to campus, or having to complete the term remotely.
Fisher also emphasized that students who are uncomfortable with taking in-person classes will still have the option to attend courses remotely.
“While we have planned well and continue our efforts to create a safe environment for a return to campus, the decision to return to in-person activities is yours to make. I encourage every family that is concerned about the prospect of returning to talk and pray through the issue and come to a conclusion that is right for you.”
Freshman music therapy major Karenna Cox concluded that returning to campus would be the best option for her.
“I am very excited to return to campus, regardless of all the new rules,” she said. “I was hoping Dr. Fisher would let us return to Belmont, so I was really happy when the email came through. If we weren’t able to go in person, I would’ve been devestated, but definitely not surprised.”
Cox thinks Belmont’s COVID-19 procedures will effectively manage the spread of the virus, she said.
“I think no matter what Belmont does, there will be people who get COVID-19,” said Cox. “But, I do think that as long as everyone follows the rules, especially off campus students, then we will be able to manage the number of cases and stay on campus.”
Senior Haley-Grace Mills said she is not so confident in Belmont’s ability to limit the spread.
Mills is disappointed in Belmont’s decision, as she feels students don’t have enough information on social distancing procedures.
“They haven’t even given us real information on what they are doing. They just keep sending broadly termed emails, just not really addressing what their plan is,” said Mills.
Mills still has questions surrounding how often surfaces on campus will be cleaned and how many students will be allowed in a classroom at one time.
What’s even more concerning to Mills is Belmont’s plans to continue to host the presidential debate in October.
“To bring us back on campus and tell us we are going to be safe, and that they are trying to look out for our best interest, and then hold a debate where thousands of people are going to be–I know there is no audience, but journalists are still going to be there, it’s an open campus, people are still going to come to campus,” she said. “I’m just disappointed in Belmont.”
Mills tentatively plans on not returning to campus, partly because she has an autoimmune disease and partly because she doesn’t know if she can trust Belmont’s procedures to keep her safe.
“I obviously want to be on campus. I want to be in a classroom. I just don’t think it’s worth it if I were to catch it and it affects me or affects a family member or whoever,” she said.
For Mills to come back to campus, it would take better communication from Belmont’s administration on what measures specifically will be taken to ensure students’ safety, she said.
“I do love Belmont. That’s what’s disappointing about all this. I wish they would just handle it better,” she said. “If you want us to come back to campus, great. I would love to come back to campus. But, maybe, put a little bit more effort on making it easier for us and keeping us more informed.”
Junior Sarah Killian, however, said Belmont has handled the situation well by allowing a choice between online and in-person classes.
“They have a responsibility to do what’s best for the majority of the student body. That’s what they are doing by giving us a choice,” said Killian
Killian will be attending classes remotely for the semester, but she said Belmont has a good system in place to keep the student body healthy.
While she doesn’t think it’s possible to avoid COVID-19 completely, she does think the flexibility of the hybrid model will allow for Belmont students to easily stay at home if they feel sick, she said.
“I feel overall they have done the best thing that we could ask them to do,” said Killian.
But, for students like Mills, questions still linger about what exactly will happen when students start to return to campus.
“I just don’t think it’s worth my life to come back to school.”
This article written by Kendall Crawford. Contributory reporting by Mia Ditta.