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Shared living space and a younger population may be a contributing factor to new jumps in COVID-1

9 cases in colleges.

USA TODAY

Sweaty, drunken merrymakers poured into the street under Adi Miller’s apartment next Saturday after the first week of classes at North Carolina State University.

Miller, 20, viewed the late-night bustle from her balcony, and others liked it through news articles and viral videos. The locations vary, but the images are the same: crowds of students partying like it’s 2019 – don’t see a mask.

Yet for Miller and her social circle, college at the time of the coronavirus was a very different experience from what was played in the headlines. She and her friends wear masks outside their apartments – and sometimes inside – at small, socially remote gatherings.

Miller’s only personal interactions are with friends she is sure take the COVID-19 security measures seriously, she said, although a stranger who scans her Snapchat stories may draw different conclusions. She suspects that many students like her may feel misled.

“I think more people are responsible on campus than the media portrays,” said Miller, a communications specialist and television and film actress with an extensive biography of IMDb. “People do not know the measures you have taken to make sure you are safe. At the moment, it is very easy to shame and blame people. “

Although significant student gatherings have sparked outbreaks of COVID-19 on campuses across the country, experts say punishing students for socializing is harmful, ineffective, and does not take into account students’ developmental needs.

People go to college not only for education, but also to seek social connections, become independent and explore their identity – all of which are quite difficult to do through Zoom, said Mary Alward, a psychologist who specializes in treating adolescents.

“We can’t put all the blame on the students; it is a shared responsibility and responsible adults need to understand in their development where these students come from and what their expectations are outside academia, ”said Alward, who is also an additional professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at George Washington University. “Check how difficult this is.”

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College administrators may not have received the message.

Syracuse officials stopped 23 freshmen from gathering at the school and said in a statement that students “selfishly threatened what many of you say they want from the University of Syracuse – a chance for a collective experience.” … Be an adult. Think of someone other than yourself. “

After finding meetings that did not meet school guidelines, University of Connecticut officials expelled an undisclosed number of students from campus homes. Purdue stopped temporarily 36, although officers later returned most of them. The University of Tennessee has threatened to expel students who host parties.

The list goes on. And so on. And so on.

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The state of North Carolina announced on Wednesday that it would close residential halls less than a week after moving classes online, citing COVID-19 clusters in homes on and off campus. Nearly 800 students have tested positive since the pandemic began, most of them in August, according to the school’s website.

Miller said he understood the decision to close the dormitories. She had only one personal class, but many of the students in this group were involved in Greek life.

“I was a little nervous, thinking, ‘What if I go to classes with people who went to big parties?’ Said Miller. “You have to trust that they all take the same precautions as you and that they think of other people. You just have to hope for the best. ”

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“Age of the study”

At a glance, the math may seem simple: Partygoers become positive cases, recklessness leads to disease, socialization equals selfishness.

Not quite, Alworth said. It’s a little more nuanced than that.

Students come from different backgrounds and belief systems. Some may have spent the summer with immunocompromised family members; the parents of others could convince them that the virus was a scam.

Some students are physically healthy but suffer from mental illness. “The risk of being left alone or separated feels greater than the risk of contracting or spreading the disease,” Alward said.

In addition, students are in a developmental stage, which she describes as the “era of research.”

They feel young, invulnerable. Social commitment and acceptance are paramount to them. “They want to be cool, to fit in, to belong – and that often replaces the risk,” Alward said.

Tactics of accusation and shame, while designed to guide and tame a few bad actors, can have the opposite effect. When meetings without masks make headlines, it spreads the feeling that everyone is having fun, so if we borrow a line from The Cranberries, why can’t we?

“You can’t expect students to return to campus, be locked in their rooms, not talk to anyone, and eat all their meals alone,” said Hannah Lang, a 20-year-old student in quantitative social sciences at the University of Dartmouth. . “At the moment, this is not an experience on campus at all.”

Students have a responsibility to follow public health guidelines, and placing blame only at the feet of universities would deprive students of their agency, Lang said. However, she added, plans to open her school suffer from a major drawback: “None of them involve involving students or asking students how they plan to behave or what challenges they may face.”

Administrators at Beloit College in Wisconsin addressed the dissonance by asking students to rewrite the school’s culture statement for the coronavirus era.

The student committee began with an honest conversation about how and where people will have fun, instead of pretending not to.

“It is unrealistic to tell students, especially those who have been living in their parents’ houses for five months, not to party or leave the dormitory,” said Seva Poytevin, 21, a member of the student government. “Imposing a ban on everything would encourage secret parties that would not be safe. They would be completely unregulated, internal and very secretive – and we are trying to escape that. “

The guidelines drafted by the commission even included recommendations for healthy hugs, which they turned into infographics and printed on signs they posted around campus.

“It’s not about not doing things – not cuddling, not partying, not seeing friends – it’s about how to do them safely,” Poetevin said.

Administrators have set aside money for circus tents, indoor heaters, picnic tables and Adirondack chairs to make outdoor campus more attractive, said Tara Girard, director of Beloit’s health and wellness center and a registered nurse.

“There are things like 20-year-olds who will do, so it’s about how you raise them,” Girard said. “It’s a harm reduction, not a ‘just say no.'”

Confusing Optics

Lang leads a research team in Dartmouth that delves into coronavirus problems on campus. The students who responded to the survey said they thought the school’s rules were unclear. The freshmen feared that if they made a mistake, they would be sent home and accused the administrators of tightening the restrictions.

Lang said one of the problems the team was dealing with was how to deal with minor violations. Perhaps behavior could be judged on a sliding scale of egregiousness. Ignoring social distance guidelines, such as seeking comfort in an embrace, is not the same as throwing a massive, maskless rager.

“You have followers of the rules who are really stressed about doing the same thing wrong because they can be sent home or kicked out and none of the adults will believe them anymore, compared to students who have given up and said, ‘ anyway, everyone gets confused so I can do whatever I want, “Lang said.

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She believes the latter group is a small part of her generation and that reports of students partying in her community may not be exactly what they seem.

Many of the students he knows live in apartments for five people and have chosen the residents of another apartment to communicate with. Posting on social media or taking a picture of the news of 10 people having fun outside, playing pong or a hole without masks can cause some undeserved glances.

“It creates confusing optics,” Lang said. “It’s written in the newspapers, as if we’re all completely out of control.”

By Lang’s point, although Syracuse officials said hundreds of freshmen who gathered at the school on Aug. 19 “may have done enough damage to close the campus,” news reports later said all present had negative results before the event.

As Miller recalls the flow of students filling the street below her apartment, she disapproves of their choice, but understands them.

She was trained at home as a child to be able to practice acting. She has twice portrayed a zombie in The Walking Dead and starred in Behind You, a horror film recently released on Hulu.

“I missed much of my childhood,” Miller said. “I don’t want to miss college.”

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