“A blind spot at best and malicious at worst”: Students reflect on CU’s COVID-19 response

by CU Independent
Graphics by Anna Haynes

Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for grammar, punctuation and spelling. All identifying information has been removed.

The University of Colorado Boulder began the fall 2020 semester Aug. 24 under a hybrid model, bringing students back to campus for in-person learning. Since then, over 1200 students and staff have contracted COVID-19, making the university the source of the largest outbreak in Colorado.

After a 2-week quarantine recommendation, a public health order prohibiting all 18-22 year olds in Boulder from gathering, stay-at-home orders on Greek houses and a switch to fully remote instruction, the CU Independent asked over 200 CU Boulder students for their responses to the university’s handling of COVID-19 this semester. This is what they said.

“I don’t see the logic behind bringing everyone to school, charging full tuition, and then threatening students with massive fines and jail time for leaving their house, even if it’s to see a small number of friends that you know have been following all the guidelines. The administrators are idiots if they thought there wouldn’t be any blowback from students about this. I have to give them some credit for trying to pull school off safely, but these last two weeks have been less than promising.”

“Very poor communication with graduate workers on whether they would be expected (required to get funding…) to teach in person. I didn’t receive my assignment until mid-August. Fortunately I got an online teaching position but it was very stressful and others in my department have been forced to teach in person against their wishes. Flexibility of ‘hybrid’ options doesn’t apply to instructional staff. Administration has basically said we’re too paranoid for being worried.”

“All of these issues were foreseen (and are happening all over the country at schools of comparable sizes to CU); the fact that CU is blaming students (and undergraduate students in particular) for problems that they, the university administration, chose to ignore is a particularly vile form of victim-blaming.”

“CU is telling us they care about our mental health and that we are a community, yet I’m legally not allowed to leave my house. I can’t even explain how horrible isolation is for my mental health. I also shouldn’t feel terrified that I’m going to be expelled from school for seeing one other person. I shouldn’t be afraid that my fellow students are going to report me for getting groceries or working out. And I should not feel afraid when police are around that I’m going to be arrested because I left my house. That is NOT a sense of community. Not to mention CU is making students move out of their dorms with no help when that should have been thought about at the very beginning. You are asking for our thoughts, but in my opinion all CU cares about is that our tuition hit and now, we are getting screwed over. Also, the best thing is for all of the healthy students to get COVID so that we aren’t at risk for spreading it later on. I get going remote, but why is the entire world losing their mind over a virus with a fatality rate lower than the flu? … I know that the world’s reaction is not CU’s fault, but I am so frustrated. I haven’t been partying or in large groups and I am being punished like a toddler told not to leave my room. I hope CU can do better going forward and I am still hopeful that by next semester we can be in person and CU can make us feel more like a community again. I agree with “protecting our herd” (granted herd immunity is still the best option in my opinion), but threatening students with jail time and expulsion? I feel like I don’t live in a free country and I cannot believe this is actually happening in America.”

“I’m tired of the protocols changing every week. I understand that we are in unprecedented times and that requires adaptive efforts, but I’m tired of the university dragging us along. The announcement of a 2-week hiatus of in-person classes after CU sent an email out the week prior stating classes are completely safe is honestly insulting.”

“CU claimed they would provide support to all students, and provide support to Greek houses. I am in a Greek house, and CU has completely failed to do so. We have been BEGGING them for guidance on what protocol to have for quarantine and isolation within the house, and they have still failed to give us a concrete plan. They are directly responsible for all COVID cases, because they gave students the feeling of security if they came back, waited for them to pay their tuition, and THEN cracked down and used Greek life as a scapegoat.”

“You have made no consideration to the mental health of your students, especially the incoming freshman. We are in a new place with people we don’t know and we have been completely isolated. I understand the COVID is a serious issue but completely isolating your student body isn’t a good reaction. And before you even attempt to make the argument, online social events are not a good substitute for actual human interaction. Fall Welcome was a complete and utter disaster, and I feel more isolated now than I ever have. I’m genuinely convinced that no one cares about the freshman class. We were pretty much thrown into a space we have no knowledge of and prevented from finding anyone to help us get through the change.”

“(They are) blaming everything on students when I know people who did not leave their houses and contracted it from a grocery store. Don’t invite students back and then blame them when you made no efforts to slow the spread. I called the non-emergency line to report large gatherings multiple times and they would hang up on me.”

“Anyone that has scholarships that require continuous enrollment should be given exceptions to take a semester or more off due to the objectively inferior education this year.”

“It is known that part of the ‘college experience’ revolves around a discriminate disregard for authority, and the university knows this and has, in the past, made decisions with this in account, however on this occasion the university has decided to, with conscious efforts, not act with this understanding in mind and push off its responsibility to protect the campus population from this virus onto the students who, like it or not, will act in ways subversive to authority, regardless of the associated punishments, because that’s part of the culture of being a young adult.”

“Lack of communication is the largest issue. Not only via the dashboard, which they had to fix, but communication with affected students, how they are getting their data about cases, and the interactions between the BoCo health orders and CU policy. There is an incredible amount of ambiguity right now about what is required of us and what the punishments are if we do not follow rules that are not clearly laid out (and are frankly ridiculous and punitive). Furthermore, I have heard of multiple cases of students living in the dorms that needed information (ex. their roommate had COVID and needed to isolate) and they were not contacted by the university in any way. Finally, CU is not reporting cases completely accurately, especially when it comes from transmissions from in-person classes. While I understand that dealing with COVID is a massive undertaking for the university right now, the lack of communication and transparency with students about things that directly impact our daily functioning and health feels like a blind spot at best and malicious at worst.”

“They should have never opened campus fully to begin with. I find it sickening that they closed campus right after the drop out period to ensure that students have to pay full price for less than half of the experience than we are paying for. I knew I should have taken the semester off to wait and see how things work but as a senior, I felt pressure to finish school on time. Now I very much regret not taking the semester off as CU’s administration’s response is extremely lackluster and poor.”

“Where is the virus spreading? Parties. How long does accountability take? Weeks. Who holds the money on a college campus? Athletics. What just happened to athletics? Reinstated. If I were to write a book on this event in human history I would call it COVID-19: The Exposé’.”

“I think the university is handling it very well, but not all students are being the safest which can be seen in the high numbers of off campus cases recently. I think trying to educate the students more about keeping everyone safe might be a good idea.”

“Instead of punishing the whole student body, they should actually crack down on the parties on the Hill instead of making the rest of students follow their policies while the parties on the Hill continue to rage on without any interference.”

“There needs to be a level of responsibility taken by the school, it’s very unfortunate that they continue to blame the students while they were the ones who made the decision to bring everyone back. I spent the whole summer here and while we had a small and minor breakout in June-July, we were able to be responsible citizens who stayed inside. It’s ignorant to assume bringing 30,000 young adults, who have been living with their parents for six-plus months to not go out, to not see their best friends who they have been missing for months.”

“Using age discrimination and house arrest for anyone 18-22, full price for mostly online classes, and the blatant disregard for CU students has made me question if I want to return to CU. I’m sad and embarrassed at how CU’s leadership has handled the coronavirus and how they have handled us as students.”

“Even though it was not a good idea to bring a bunch of new students to this community, that was what was decided—and with that decision it was known that cases were going to rise. However, I know for a fact that our school is taking more measures and precautions than a bunch of schools around America and doing a lot better, so while the new public mandate can seem extreme I feel like at least we’re doing something. CU at least had a plan—but college students just seem to misprioritize what is important.”

“I don’t think the remote classes are very good. Professors have not really made many adjustments for Zoom learning, they assign a TON of homework, expect students to learn all the subject matter on their own and sink or swim. I have found that most teachers don’t even return email questions in a timely manner, even though they have TAs. The department people don’t return emails either, even though they work from home. The Zoom class sizes are HUGE! CU, I think, is lacking direction and common sense leadership. The COVID-19 testing seems to be there, but their COVID flash site seemed to be purposefully confusing, so nobody knew the real numbers of cases to react. That makes me not trust the University and not want to come back.”

“It feels like it all comes down to the bottom line of tuition/room and board money, students be damned. The college is going to do everything they can to keep us on campus so that they don’t have to give any money back, even if that takes putting kids on house arrest and telling them that they can’t even meet up with their friends under penalty of a 4-figure fine and a misdemeanor charge. Did I mention that’s on top of the already sky-high tuition prices?”

“We are now stuck in a particularly horrible Morton’s fork: since there has been a large outbreak at CU, closing campus and sending students home would only further spread the virus. Again, this problem was foreseen and the university chose to ignore it, pretending that an outbreak wouldn’t or couldn’t happen instead of actually making a plan for what to do when it did.”

“I doubt the school is going to take accountability for the fact that there’s going to be an immense rise in suicide rates of CU students. They say that they offer mental health counseling but I called to schedule a virtual appointment and I can’t even get an appointment within three months. BOULDER WOULD CRUMBLE WITHOUT STUDENTS. We keep the county, city and economy alive.”

“I think that, all logistics aside, the school is doing very little to offer equivalent alternatives to partying, which adds to the number of students who feel like they need to go out or they can’t make friends. The only way to get the true ‘college experience’ in the social sense is to go out and spend time with people in person because there simply isn’t anything that offers the same level of connection. I think that instead of telling students that the college experience is still possible as long as they follow health guidelines, which everyone knows is not true, the school should make it absolutely clear that everyone has to follow the guidelines because anything else is the same as recklessly endangering their friends and classmates. A normal experience shouldn’t have even been a part of the discussion this semester.”

“There should’ve been an option to choose your roommate based on the precautions for COVID you planned to take.”

“The university leadership is incompetent and self-interested and is largely illegitimate in the eyes of the students and community. I don’t think they should change their behavior—it’s too late for that—they should resign unconditionally and reject the benefits and pay that they have stolen from our massive tuition fees.”

“It is a misstep for administration to act as if this is outside of their hands (wait weeks to take responsibility). We live in a time where widespread, well-developed online access to university education would be groundbreaking. CU could blaze a trail towards the future of online learning and inexpensive, scalable education palatable to students of all walks of life. This unfortunately is not the case.”

“PLEASE listen to what the students have to say and understand the situation that CU has put us in. These are our lives and education, and right now we have no say in either.”

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