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Herald editorial: Universities need to counteract student apathy before it’s too late

By Daily Herald Editorial Board - | Sep 19, 2020

When the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, everyone had different ideas of how 2020 would go for them. Obviously, few of those initial plans likely panned out as coronavirus crossed oceans and conquered countries.

Only three months into a promising new decade, Utah went into lockdown with the hopes of waiting out the virus’ two-week incubation period. Six months later and the state’s numbers are reaching unprecedented heights.

On Friday, Utah reported its largest daily count of positive COVID-19 tests, coming in at just over 1,100 new confirmed cases. About 40% of those cases came from Utah County, which holds 20% of the state’s total population.

With a significant number of Utah County’s cases stemming from spikes in the college-aged demographic, it is time to assess the practicality of having over 70,000 students from all over the world reconvene in Provo and Orem to attend classes at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University.

While it may have been a valiant effort, a certain percentage of students at both universities have shown, to this point anyway, a disregard for protocols put in place to stem the overall spread of the virus — and by extension that the health and safety of others and the community at large may not be all that high on their priority list.

When students were making the decision to attend in-person classes, they had to — at some degree — come to an understanding that this year would be unlike any other. They had to acknowledge that masks would be required, social distancing would be mandatory, and the usual gatherings and get-togethers would be, at the very least, postponed.

It seems, however, that obtaining a high school diploma and pursuing higher education is not enough for some college students to understand the gravity of the situation.

It may not yet be time to pack everything up and call it quits, but the point of no return is quickly approaching. While college students may not want to find themselves back at home and attending every class over Zoom, they are feverishly pushing universities into a corner.

College students, get it together!

Then again, putting the weight of the world onto the shoulders of new adults was probably never going to be the right approach.

Admittedly, college students everywhere are largely driven by a feeling of invincibility and having the world and their future at their fingertips. It’s part and parcel of the overall package of being a young adult. Recognizing this, however, leaders should not have made voluntary student compliance the bulwark of their plan or to substantially rely on students to carry their own weight when it comes to public health.

It is time for university officials to crack down on students who refuse to comply with health recommendations and behavioral standards. Expectations were clearly laid out before classes resumed, and returning students have surely tested the waters.

It is ludicrous to think universities that are able to police students on a number of other matters — including the length of a skirt — are apparently unable to discipline pupils for a lack of appreciation of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

University administrators need to follow through with the seemingly hollow threats they made prior to the beginning of each semester.

Restrict on-campus privileges for students who misuse amenities during a pandemic. Suspend students who willfully show a disregard for the safety of their peers and mentors. Act before the students who deserve and want to be on campus are forced to return home.

For university administrators, the ball is in your court. Act now, or on-campus shutdowns seem inevitable once again.

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