Whittier College is a little over a week into classes, and students and faculty are already being notified of possible exposure to COVID-19. Those in our community who were apprehensive to return are met with the anxiety of the reality of COVID-19 on campus. Improving safety on campus means keeping the community informed, a standard that Whittier College is failing to meet. With a reported COVID-19 vaccination rate of 97 percent among students and 90 percent among staff and faculty, many individuals are not required to isolate themselves following an exposure, allowing for potentially asymptomatic vaccinated individuals to spread the virus to more vulnerable members of our community. The Quaker Campus calls for Whittier College to share how many students and faculty members are testing positive for COVID-19 on a daily basis. Sending emails restating the same information does not do anything to placate fears or spread the sense of safety and security in our community.
For staff, faculty, and students who have unvaccinated children, are immunocompromised, or are otherwise members of vulnerable communities, it is critical to know the safety of our environment. With students not having a choice in regards to taking in-person classes at Whittier College, it seems irresponsible to not provide frequent updates regarding the status of COVID-19 in our community. We understand that on such a small campus, confidentiality is imperative. However, in extraordinary times that require living and learning during a developing pandemic that demands flexible responses on an individual and community level, sharing the information about the safety of our community takes precedence.
Before there is an outbreak of three or more connected cases on our campus, the College needs to share the number of positive cases in the community. Testing should be available on campus all days of the week. Masks should be available and accessible in all buildings.
Students who are placed in modified quarantine due to contact tracing and exposure risks are allowed to continue attending classes but are expected to not attend social activities. What qualifies as a social activity: work, going home to possibly vulnerable household members, eating in a communal space? Whittier College does not exist as an isolated community. The College has failed to acknowledge the impact of our actions in a larger world; Whittier students and faculty do not exist in a bubble. It is irresponsible to not acknowledge that our actions and health on campus do not impact a broader community.
Furthermore, the Health and Wellness Center is closed on weekends. Residential Students and faculty whose three-to-five-day post-exposure period falls on the weekend then are required to go off campus for testing if they hope to get results sooner rather than later. It is not fair to students, especially residential students, to have to abide by the weekly schedule of the Health and Wellness Center when they may have a roommate that is risking exposure. It should be possible for students, staff, and faculty to get tested on campus any day of the week in order to have timely responses to positive cases.
The 4 C’s of Whittier College are Community, Communication, Cultural Perspectives, and Connection, with the College’s website stating that “all students graduating from Whittier College — regardless of major or career goal — should leave with a strong sense of Whittier’s Four C’s and their meaning in every aspect of life, both at the College and beyond.” Currently, the College is failing to live up to this standard. Whittier College prides itself on being a diverse community and a Hispanic-Serving Institution, so it should be sensitive to the fact that its core student population is more vulnerable to COVID-19; death rates are highest among Black Americans, and closely followed by Latinx Americans. We must question how Whittier is upholding community, communication, cultural perspectives, and connections if they have thus far failed to create an informed and clear narrative of COVID-19 on campus.
Returning to campus during a pandemic is a new experience for all of us. We cannot expect perfection, but we can demand an honest attempt to foster informed safety for all members of and beyond our community. The Quaker Campus finds that the College is on the path to failing to promote a safe environment to live and learn because of this lack of transparency regarding the state of COVID-19 on campus. Simply following protocol is not enough to create security on campus. A college that values connections, community, cultural perspectives, and communication needs to honor those qualities in their COVID-19 response by recognizing the role that information and accessible resources play in empowerment and safety.