As cases of the coronavirus continue to surge in Arizona, surpassing 100,000 total cases on Monday, ASU's plans for the fall are the same: Students still have the option to return to campus and attend classes with their peers.
When the University announced its plans for the upcoming semester on April 30, Arizona had 7,648 cases; since then, cases have risen by over 90,000, with a total of 101,441 cases and 1,810 deaths as of Monday, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
ASU President Michael Crow has said in interviews and Zoom calls that the University will not allow the return of students in the fall if Arizona stays on its current trajectory. But with no official word on a change of plans for the semester, students have been left to determine if returning to campus or Arizona is safe for themselves.
"I definitely feel like those of us who feel it is unsafe to come back to campus will be left in the dust," said Carly Golding, a senior majoring in justice studies.
In interviews with The State Press and in posts on social media, students have criticized the University for its lack of transparency and communication on what will happen this fall, especially given that there are thousands of people diagnosed with COVID-19 every day in Arizona.
Other universities across the country have chosen a different path for the fall semester. The California State University system, which has 23 different schools, announced in May they will conduct no classes in-person next semester. On Monday, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced it will only allow 40% of its undergraduate student body to live on-campus and will operate classes remotely throughout the entire academic year.
The key for success? Compliance
Will Humble, executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association and a former director of ADHS, said it is “reasonable” for universities to begin planning for a return to campus and to develop a strong mitigation plan.
ASU’s plan is good, Humble said, but only “as long as you’ve got compliance.”
If students return but take their mask and “throw it in a ditch on the way to Mill Avenue,” the University’s plan will have accomplished little, he said.
Crow admitted that he cannot control what people decide to do off-campus, but in June he told the Arizona Board of Regents he is confident that the University can handle the return of students and faculty.
“What got us into this situation that we’re in was people engaging in foolish behavior in environments with zero mitigation,” Humble said.
Since the majority of universities have been functioning remotely, they have not contributed to spikes in coronavirus cases. But, the on-campus return of thousands of students in the fall could cause surges in cases.
Additionally, college-aged people have accounted for a disproportionate rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, as they have frequented bars and night clubs that chose to reopen.
Students said they also have concerns about the spread of the virus if their peers do not follow the guidelines, ultimately choosing to put others at risk.
“I will do the right things and make the right choices,” said Patrick Hays, a senior studying material science and engineering. “I don’t have that same confidence with everyone else.”
For many, expecting all students to do the right thing is nothing more than naivety from the University. Over Fourth of July weekend, for example, students posted pictures and videos on social media of them partying unmasked. Some ventured to California, which also has surging cases of COVID-19.
Golding said young adults have displayed “so much risky behavior” over the last few months that even with a well done plan “there is still too much inherent risk because you can’t force everyone to take it seriously.”
Many are doubtful that a return to campus will prompt other students to begin taking the pandemic seriously after months of many choosing not to.
“People have already proven they will not take the necessary precautions,” Taylor Kennaugh, a senior studying justice studies, said. “ASU shouldn’t expect that their students will be any different.”
Without frequent communication, many unsure of what to expect
Amid a relatively unpredictable environment, a lack of clear direction and transparency has left many questioning if they should keep their lease for an apartment, or even move back to Tempe or Phoenix.
Students are also questioning how they will connect to Zoom meetings while living in areas with poor internet and limited privacy, amid other issues that arise from remote learning.
More broadly, students have wondered if they should even return to ASU.
Benji Miller, a mechanical engineering senior, said he hesitated for months to seriously look into housing for the fall because of the uncertainty.
ASU has hosted multiple Zoom webinars to help answer questions students may have about the semester, “but not everyone can attend at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday” when students aren’t aware they are happening or can’t make them because of work, Hays said.
“The sessions are only an hour or two, so how do you address the concerns of 60 or 80 thousand students on all campuses, undergraduate and graduate, all in such a short time?,” he said.
Wyatt Myskow is the project manager at The State Press, where he oversees enterprise stories for the publication. He also works at The Arizona Republic, where he covers the cities of Peoria and Surprise.