Tripod Editorial: Trinity’s “Modest Proposal”

We, the Editorial Board of the Tripod, are compelled to condemn the blatant, egregious administrative failures that endanger the health and welfare on our Hartford campus. 

We call upon the College administration to provide a detailed explanation to the student body about how they intend to ensure the community’s safety as cases continue to rise. 

As cases of COVID-19 have increased in recent days and overwhelmed the College’s “dedicated isolation facility” in Doonesbury—which, as the Tripod has previously reported, was fraught with safety flaws—the College has looked to other facilities to handle increases. 

Since mid-September, on at least three occasions, the Tripod has asked what specific facilities the College had designated for overflow. The responses: “we believe we can accommodate the students who would need to be isolated” and “we will consider other facilities and even off-campus options.” Our belief—given that there was no good reason not to disclose the names of these facilities—is that the College was unprepared for a spike of this size. 

We learned that the College’s solution to “accommodate the students who would need to be isolated” was a simple one, “a modest proposal,” if you will: place infected students in dormitories Stowe  and Clemens, where non-infected students also reside, and the virus will abate in time.  

Naturally, the College provided no notice to students, including residential advisors, who inhabit these dormitories until Monday evening. Nor were their parents—who pay substantial housing fees to the College—properly notified that their child would inhabit the same hall as an infected student. Nowhere in the Housing Contract or in the “Community Contract” that students (and parents) received is there a clause that suggests that infected students may be placed a mere dorm room away from those who have not tested positive. 

Instead, residents of Stowe and Clemens watched as cleaning crews came late at night to surreptitiously disinfect hallways. These residents watched, with reported curiosity and concern, as infected students were placed in adjacent dorms. 

“What about the vents between my dorm and the dorm next to me?” these students may wonder, given that Hartford Healthcare (with whom Trinity has partnered) has acknowledged the possibility and dangers of HVAC systems in spreading the virus. That is not to mention that the World Health Organization has admitted that “aerosol transmission cannot be ruled out” and has urged consideration of these dangers. 

No notice. No warning. No explanation. No cause for alarm, based upon the College’s handling of this situation, as the realm of isolation becomes the dorm next door. 

This is a new disease and the long-term complications that the virus can cause in those of any age remains unclear. Moreover, as Dr. Anthony Fauci has cautioned young people, “you have to have responsibility for yourself but also a societal responsibility that you’re getting infected is not just you in a vacuum.” We must agree: when the College places an infected student next to a healthy one—separated by a thin cinder block wall—any sense of a “vacuum” vanishes entirely. 

How have we risen to have the highest cumulative case total in the NESCAC league and the highest number of currently active cases? How does the College account for the rapid shift from zero reported active cases to 21 to 47 in mere days? Why do we still remain in “orange” while our case count doubles in less than a week?  

Some may say, “didn’t the students (and parents, by extension) assume this risk by going back to campus?” Indeed. But we made that decision based on the promises set forth in the “Community Contract” and the “return to campus” plan. Nowhere did we consent to a plan of action that would place us next door to those who have contracted a new and rapid-spreading disease. In every contract, there exists a presumed “covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” Our opinion: that covenant has been trampled on and the contract terms breached by the College’s ineptitude to address the reality of what is transpiring on campus.  

Students in Stowe have requested hand sanitizer be refilled in their dormitory hallway (it has remained empty for 3 ½ weeks). The College has not responded nor taken action on that request. The College has repeatedly tarried between updates of the COVID dashboard, allowing case counts to substantially increase before alerts are sent to the community while rumor and uncertainty breeds along the Long Walk. 

In an email to the College community yesterday evening, DiChristina communicated that of the 47 cases, “Thirty-four of the students are in isolation on campus, and 13 are at their homes.” He confirmed the College’s reaching its capacity to house infected students, and stated that in sharing these details, the administration hopes to “provide clarity and reassurance about our protocols for housing and caring for students who test positive for COVID-19, as well as for housing and caring for all other students on campus.” This statement is concerning. If housing positive and negative students in the same residence halls is purportedly reassuring, there exists a complete and utter disconnect between what the students need and what the administration thinks we need. We need frequent updates and communication regarding the status of isolation protocol and cases on campus, not a delayed response three days following the start of a significant outbreak on campus.

We need explanations on how the College plans to move forward in a more timely manner, and we need utter transparency from the administration, not a vague response to the community a few hours before our print issue. 

Let us attempt, then, to state the College’s proposal as Swift might have done: “I have been assured by a very knowing Administrator of my acquaintance in Hartford, that an infected student is a delightful vehicle to ensure the rapid spread of the virus, a most infectious creature that, whether isolated or placed adjacent to the healthy, will no doubt equally serve in the noble cause of multiplying tenfold our coronavirus cases on campus in short order.”  

The Trinity Tripod

bclark

Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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