In response to “We all miss campus, but making the return optional isn’t equitable” published on June 26, 2020:
As president of our Student Government Association (SGA) and a member of the University-wide steering committee, I’ve been involved in fall planning for months. Equity has been a priority, and feedback is valuable. I thank the author of this article for airing their thoughts, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share my disagreement.
The author argues that an optional return to campus will be inequitable partly because students are in unequal home situations. She’s right that Hopkins students find themselves in a variety of home situations, but given that reality, it is necessary to give students the option to come back to campus.
A student might have had to return to an unstable home environment due to coronavirus (COVID-19) in the spring. Universal pass/fail grading was necessary for them because they faced obstacles to online coursework at home. If they have the option to return to campus this fall, then they have the opportunity to be in an environment conducive to pursuing their academic goals. The well-meaning but misguided argument in this piece would have that student stuck at home for another semester with everything still online, but this time with unforgiving letter grading. As we know, the differences in school and home are steep, but forcing all students into an online semester does not take away the stark differences in home life between students.
The author also argues that when students come back to campus, they will be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. However, this assumes a safe environment at home. In many states, cases are still rising. The University has released publicly available plans describing robust and mandatory public health guidelines, which are arguably better than widely ignored public health measures across the country. If students do get sick, Hopkins has a thought-out quarantine system in place. Meanwhile, students have access to some of the best health care in the world, presenting circumstances equal to if not better than the experience of contracting COVID-19 at home.
To be sure, online learning equity is a concern, but the author’s predictions for its failures rest on shallow ground. The article cites intangibles like work with friends, meetings with professors and hands-on lab sections. But how can the author be sure the experience will be inferior when they make zero reference to the draft plan for academics? We the readers are given no reason why dragging every student down by forbidding a return to campus actually lifts anybody up.
To conclude, preventing students from returning to campus creates an inequity orders of magnitude higher than any that exists between in-person and online instruction. Given the measures the University is taking, it is likely that Hopkins will be safer for our undergraduates than most other parts of the country, if not much of the world. Even if in-person classes provide some minor advantage to students, the large majority of classes in the fall will be online anyways.
For those who cannot return to campus and cannot succeed in online classes, forcing classes to be online for everyone won’t make their situation any better. Taking a leave of absence is always an option; no one is being forced to choose between peace of mind and a high quality education when the third option is choosing to take the semester off and wait for the public health situation to improve. COVID-19 has presented the University and the world with many tough decisions, but here the solution is clear: Let students return to campus in the fall if they choose and if the public health situation allows for it.
Sam Mollin is a senior Political Science and Environmental Studies double-major from Larchmont, NY. He is the Executive President of SGA and is a member of the JHU 2020 Planning Student Advisory Committee.