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***Editor’s Note: Letters to the editor are the author’s opinion alone***
It has been more than a year since NIU students received that fateful email notifying them of their extended spring break and, at first, a temporary period of distance learning.
At the time, COVID-19 was mysterious and new. However, as data came in, researchers like Drs. John Ioannidis and Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford questioned assumptions about whether everyone was at equal risk and therefore in need of equal protection.
By April 2020, a wave of university presidents embraced such ideas, citing the low risk of traditional college students to justify reopening in the fall.
Yet, as fall approached, most universities embraced policies that primarily sought to minimize COVID infections among a low risk population, and treated education and the college experience as afterthoughts.
This was largely what NIU did. Students could return to their dorms. Most classes were online. Compliance within a broadly written behavior code, the Protect the Pack Pledge, was expected.
Students were generally not involved in the development of these policies. Today, many remain unclear on the policies’ practical implications. Just ask five friends whether they could be penalized for attending a small, maskless dinner party or frequenting a crowded bar.
Looking forward, NIU plans to pursue a more normal 2021-2022. However, what this entails remains largely unknown. Students in dorms can have roommates. Most classes will be in person. But the Protect the Pack Pledge is not going away. Although NIU has stated it cannot mandate COVID vaccination with vaccines lacking full FDA approval, many universities disagree. Others in Illinois simply wait for a greenlight from Springfield.
Many hope for a return to 2019, but the reality may be more students mandated to relinquish more autonomy to university officials than in 2020. Yet, while decisions on these matters are being made, students, once more, are still largely uninvolved.