As COVID-19 forces colleges to implement various means of testing, reporting, and protecting their student body from harm, Trinity College has succeeded in providing a comprehensive testing procedure. It is clear that the institution has made a concerted effort this summer to afford the sense of a safe environment and that countless administrators have sought various solutions to the problem the pandemic introduces.
But appearances are only half the battle: the sanitizing stations, colorful “Protect the Nest” signage, and touchless door mechanisms are but a modicum of the most fundamental element of effective leadership in a time of crisis, clear and seamless communication that informs and drives student understanding.
Following the first positive COVID-19 case on campus, announced via email on August 29, students were informed that updates on positive tests will not always be made to the community. This, on its face, seems problematic: students should know when and where positive cases emanate. If that means ten emails in the course of a day, then so be it: the level of communication in large part dictates the degree of seriousness and suggests that we need to change course promptly as they grow out of hand.
As a solution to this intended infrequent updating, the College launched its COVID-19 dashboard. As of Monday evening, the College’s alert level stands at “Green” and the dashboard reflects only one positive case on-campus (others occurred before students returned). But the dashboard is updated only “twice” during “business hours” throughout the week. Only twice a week while students are tested four out of seven days? Twice a week when tests can come back positive one day after an update was issued? The numbers are incongruous. Between Friday and Monday, when the dashboard has yet to be updated, Trinity could have seen any number of variations in cases. We simply do not know.
On a small campus of 2,000, Trinity’s rumor-mill is always turning. With a pandemic on our hands, students cannot afford to be getting all of their information from the alleged tales of what happened on Vernon Saturday night. If this College is to succeed, data cannot be hidden. If the College has good cause to only update its dashboard twice a week, tell the community why. Nothing can be left to chance and honesty remains essential: students should know–at all times–how many cases rest ‘neath the elms every day of the week.
The same is true of Trinity’s return-to-campus protocols. As students arrived, vague guidelines and expectations abounded, and answers could be found only by scouring the Trinity College website. Rules and expectations regarding social gatherings have not been clearly stated, as many students remain unaware of the “strike” system (it is not easily found in online materials, nor was it among the multitude of emails sent in August). Our Dean informed us that gathering on the quad and in other public places was subject to prohibition until September 7th. From the day students returned to campus, the quads have been sites of social activity–with and without masks–and to the passerby enforcement seems left to chance. If Trinity’s policy has changed, that should be communicated. For now, those who reside on the quad, absent a pronouncement, seem the contraveners of an unenforced law.
Some students believe that if they are seen without a mask, they will be expelled. Others believe that gathering in groups of 25 indoors violates no policy. Many students have had disciplinary meetings this week for incidents that range from a casual hello to friends to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Countless others party at off-campus residences, another veil that Trinity cannot pierce. When these stories circulate, strong administrative response is needed. We need more clarity on what is acceptable and what is not. Most importantly, violators should be met with consequences: if we expect to make it the semester, Trinity cannot advertise one message yet enact and enforce another.
-BWC, KN, LF, DN