September 21, 2020
Michigan State University has once again made headlines as students returned to campus this fall, triggering a sharp rise in Ingham County COVID-19 cases. While university executives implement emergency COVID-related measures, including shifting instruction to remote learning and barring the majority of its student population from living on campus, it seems these solutions did not take into account the thousands of MSU students committed to living off-campus. The status quo of student renters to sign leases almost a year in advance has left many trapped in leases and now trapped in a developing COVID breeding ground.
The toll COVID-19 has taken on this college town feels painfully predictable, especially after events in June lead to roughly 200 new confirmed cases all tracing to Harper’s, a local restaurant and bar. Those students who have been in the area, or even seen their friends here on social media, are alarmingly familiar with just how unconcerned the student population seems to be by the current public health crisis. This overwhelmingly nonchalant attitude related to COVID was most evident as the number of university cases rose to 342 since August 24. In response, Ingham County issued a 14 day self quarantine recommendation for all MSU Students living in the area.
Mary Claire Zauel, a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in English and minoring in film studies and musical theatre, shared her reaction to the quarantine recommendation.
“I saw the email, and it led to a lot of mixed feelings. Mostly a deeper sense of understanding of why they told us we couldn’t live in the dorms, but also an irritation that the few people there still can’t follow the rules. I’m also stressed that their actions will result in us not being able to come back for the spring,” said Zauel.
Students like senior professional writing and linguistics double major Megan Elias have concerns of the effectiveness of such recommendations.
“My apartment complex had a bunch of parties for Labor Day weekend, so I anticipate a lot of people completely ignoring the stay home recommendation. I do think the university could have been more serious [regarding the email sent to students]. ‘Hey do us a favor and stay home’ isn’t the type of rhetoric that’s going to work on the person who has been going to frat parties in a pandemic,” said Elias.
Another concerned student, Greg — name changed for anonymity — , expressed his inability to effectively self-quarantine due to irresponsible roommates.
“I did plan to self-quarantine following the new guidelines and recommendations. However, it is difficult because I do not live alone. I live with roommates who are rather overly comfortable hanging out with people. It puts me in a difficult position because I continue to ask to limit the number of people who pass through, but nothing changes,” said Greg.
The original quarantine recommendation issued on September 12, 2020 also mentioned that the Ingham County health department would evaluate whether more severe measures should be enforced on those living in a house with ten individuals or more, leaving students in smaller homes, like Greg, out of luck.
Consequently, two days later a mandatory quarantine was issued for 30 East Lansing properties with known exposure to COVID. These properties included 23 fraternity and sorority houses, after a proposed social moratorium failed to pass in August.
Guillermo Flores, the Associate Director for Fraternity & Sorority Life (FSL) at MSU, shared a letter explaining FSLs response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the Fall 2020 semester. This correspondence revealed the Interfraternity Council (IFC), made up of 28 MSU fraternities, voted in August about a social moratorium for the upcoming semester. The moratorium only received 17 favorable votes, leaving it just short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. Flores goes on to cite the MSU Community Compact, outline possible repercussions for violations, and reaffirm the issue as being a matter of “personal responsibility” for students. Clearly, a sense of “personal responsibility” for members of this community didn’t defer their irresponsible socialization as MSU administration had hoped.
Some students feel these measures are like empty promises from the institution when only recommendations are made, despite evidence such efforts have not been effective. It’s worth noting, as well, that these recommendations are made by the health department and merely shared with students via email by the university.
“Obviously this quarantine recommendation is not doing enough. I think that MSU is solely doing this as a PR tactic,” Greg said, “MSU is still rebranding itself after the Nassar incidents. If the university shows that they are taking a strong stance against COVID, then maybe, just maybe, their public relations will improve. I think that if these emails we are receiving from President Stanley are going to do anything to actually stop students from gathering, serious punishments need to get put into place: fines, class suspensions, etc.”
According to correspondence from President Stanley, students who choose not to follow MSU Community Compact guidelines will face suspension.. As of September 11, already over 20 university students are facing suspension for violation of COVID precautions.
It’s worth noting that the situation has continued to develop since these disciplinary actions began, again drawing all too much attention to the dangerous shortcomings of the university’s response to the pandemic. Students like Mary Claire are anxious for the situation to turn around.
Zauel said, “I really hope that the people living off-campus get their acts together, because I’m dying to be back on campus!”
Meanwhile, students in East Lansing are left to wonder if the university will take more serious measures to protect them, or if they’ll continue to spend the year learning in isolation and watching the streets of East Lansing bustle, while the fate of people’s lives hang in the balance.
Shelby Smith is a senior double majoring in English and professional and public writing with a concentration in creative writing. Outside her time spent on The Current and with the MSU Writing Center, Shelby likes to read, attempt to author her own works, and watch something she’s already seen on Netflix.