The long-term social-emotional fallout of the COVID-19 closures this past March and subsequent cancellation of activities and events this year is immeasurable. GW’s choice to contribute to that fallout yet again, by denying freshmen the opportunity to live in D.C. for the spring semester, is a mistake.
There is no beating around the bush – most prospective students ultimately choose to enroll as a result of the University’s prime location in the nation’s capital and the internship opportunities in the city. With a major portion of students studying political science or international affairs, the chance to engage in local protests or score a Hillternship contributes to the school’s appeal. Depriving freshmen, many with still undetermined career paths and various academic interests, of these experiences will have long-term effects on the University’s standing.
It is those in-person experiences that attract students to attend GW and that have filled freshmen’s dreams for months. With enrollment numbers already down, it would not be surprising to see a significant group of freshmen withdrawing or transferring this spring. Already one of the nation’s most expensive universities, in large part because of its central location, students simply cannot afford to pay tens of thousands in tuition for a “premium Khan Academy” type experience another semester. Officials have a social responsibility to rethink GW’s closure and allow the Class of 2024 to return to campus this spring.
While officials, faculty and the Student Association have insisted our choice to close was in the best interests of students’ health, they seemingly have forgotten about mental health. We know college students are “prone to feelings of loneliness” and experience higher rates of depression compared to other Americans. Already being vulnerable, even when on an active campus with several social opportunities and access to counseling or other treatment, college students in 2020 live in a dangerous situation. Isolated at home, many with their high school friends departing for college and lacking much communication with their GW peers, freshmen are facing an even greater risk of depression, anxiety or other more serious mental health illnesses. Being on campus would help alleviate some of those issues.
Student morale and academic drive this semester have been low, as I constantly hear from my classmates that they are behind on readings and struggling to motivate themselves to attend class from anywhere but their beds or couches. Digital readings and hours of supplemental videos have become monotonous – I personally have found my eyes strained from spending extensive hours glued to my computer screen for reading assignments. But online learning is not necessarily the only thing hurting our productivity. We lack socialization and the energy of campus that enables students, especially freshmen, to perform their best. Freshmen lean on their peers to get accustomed to the pace of student life, and we need to be in person to experience that.
The Class of 2024 needs to find community. We need to build personal and professional bonds with our professors and administrators. And we need to see the full breadth of the University’s hundreds of student organizations firsthand. Freshmen are in a unique situation in that they are missing out on everything – they didn’t even get a taste of campus and don’t fully know whether GW is the right fit for them. We need to have some semblance of campus life to ensure we stay at the University for the next four years.
A number of GW’s peer institutions, like New York and Vanderbilt universities, have successfully reopened this fall with a miniscule number of cases. These schools, rather than concede in the face of difficulties, have risen to the occasion and formulated solutions to give their freshmen the college experience they promised — a mantra one would expect GW to share considering its fierce political activist mentality. With weekly testing, quarantines upon arrival, contact tracing and isolation of infected students, GW’s peers have worked through a difficult time while caring for the greater social emotional well-being of their students. GW students know the health risks of the pandemic and deserve to live in Foggy Bottom while abiding by COVID-19 guidelines.
Administrators owe students what they sold through endless admissions events, social media posts and spam emails: A world-class education at the heart of America’s political epicenter. Whether that education be fully virtual or with hybrid classes, it ought to be on campus for the best interest of freshmen’s well-being and personal growth.
Sam Raus, a freshman, is an opinions writer.