Aug 25, 2020 - Economy & Business

Student media sounds alarm on unsafe university reopenings

Illustration of a stack of newspapers with a siren on top.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

College media outlets are calling out their universities for failing to address the potentially-devastating communal spread of COVID-19 in their college towns.

Why it matters: With local newspapers in decline, campus papers have increasingly become the default for how students and community members get their news.

The big picture: Media reports and viral videos have pinpointed parties and social gatherings as the main culprit of cases across campuses so far, a problem students say universities should have prepared for. Instead, the schools are blaming the students.

  • "We all saw this coming," The Daily Tar Heel, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's student newspaper, wrote in an editorial that went viral last week.
  • UNC reverted to in-person learning just one week into the school year after clusters of coronavirus cases sprouted throughout student living areas.

The Daily Tar Heel is one of a number of campus papers that have been reporting on the mass crowds and concerns from students about super-spreader events:

  • At Penn State University, Onward State reported on a petition asking the university to send freshmen home that garnered more than 2,500 signatures.
  • At Syracuse University, The Daily Orange reported on a video of at least 100 students partying on the Quad with no masks and no social distancing less than a week before classes were set to begin.
  • The University of Notre Dame's The Observer posted a front-page editorial Friday titled, "Don't make us write obituaries," after the university closed campus.
    • "The University administration has largely blamed the COVID-19 outbreak on students attending off-campus parties," the editorial said. "While this isn't entirely misplaced, it has been used to deflect responsibility from the very administrations that insisted they were prepared for us to return to campus."
  • Oklahoma State University's The Ocolly quoted a professor who said about students congregating at bars, "This is very disappointing, frightening and 100% predictable."
  • The University of Alabama's The Crimson White wrote an editorial after clusters of cases emerged titled: "No, President Bell, we won’t be your PR."

What to watch: Colleges that decided to reopen their campuses promised precautionary measures for classes and move-in procedures. Some administrators are now getting the local police involved to break up parties and large gatherings off-campus.

  • Universities have generally threatened suspension and other punishments for those who do not wear masks or observe social distancing rules.
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