COVID-19 Quarter 2 Petition

We, the undersigned, are opposed to the decision of students, faculty, and staff returning for in-person instruction on January 11th, 2021. We acknowledge that Luther College is in a difficult position to appease all parties, but we also recognize that Luther’s decision to initiate in-person instruction for the remainder of Quarter 2 (until January 28th) is a drastic solution with life-harming effects.
We propose the continuation of online instruction until the end of quarter 2, with optional on-campus residency for the following reasons:
In-person instruction begins January 11th, however, the CDC recommends a 14-day quarantine after exposure. New Year’s Eve is a holiday many college students celebrate in large gatherings. Given that pandemic fatigue is felt by many (as described by Michael Osterholm), it is not realistic to trust the Luther community to isolate themselves during this holiday. The United States’ death rates were the highest they have ever been after Thanksgiving. They will continue to climb after the holiday season, which will increase infection rates and mental stress for students. As of December 30th, 2020, the first case of the new COVID-19 strain was confirmed in the United States.This strain is 70x more contagious and poses an even larger threat to campus safety, and is yet another factor to consider.
The pandemic has taken a massive toll on mental health, causing the pandemic to be even more difficult for many. Being on campus adds an additional mental weight on top of our classes. The added stress of protecting ourselves, our roommates, our professors, and anyone we interact with is overwhelming. A return to campus comes with many physical risks, as well as mental health risks. Services on campus have been reduced, therefore not allowing students to adequately receive necessary resources and support. Allowing an optional on-campus residency with online instruction allows everyone to choose the most appropriate option for themselves and their respective families. Having options in a time of such immense stress will provide the opportunity for us to be the best students we can be.
The change in delivery of courses from online to in-person will be a difficult adjustment. A short quarter system of only 7½ weeks already may impede student learning and performance. During quarter 2 students adjusted to learning online. Asking students and professors to switch back and forth within the same semester is taxing and takes up a lot of additional time. While continuing online learning may not be everyone’s first choice for mode of instruction, however, it is the safest.
Returning students back to campus will be a financial burden for those who travel back and forth between locations. Currently, there is no transportation service that helps students without vehicles get to and from where they need to go. Students recently received an email from the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success (CIES), a program dedicated to helping students of varying cultural backgrounds, in which they explicitly said that they are not providing funds for people who need transportation. Transportation in and around Decorah is nonexistent. When COVID-19 related emergencies arise, students without vehicles will have no options. Where can students in need turn to when there is no means of transportation?

In-person instruction puts immunocompromised students, staff, and faculty at risk of contracting COVID-19. The disinfecting measures do not provide adequate protection for the Luther community. This puts immunocompromised individuals at risk, especially with the more contagious viral strain. The unknown possibilities of who could be infected in classes, the dining hall, or even residence halls is overwhelming. If students are sent home, there is added stress to high-risk family members or loved ones. Students who choose to travel back and forth are also increasing the potential transmission of COVID-19, particularly those who are asymptomatic. Allowing optional on-campus residency with online instruction will decrease the likelihood of contracting and spreading the virus. This not only helps protect our Luther community, but our home communities as well.
Campus facilities are greatly reduced: buildings are closed earlier, reservations are required for some services, enforced capacity limits, etc. It is difficult for students to find safe spaces other than their dorm room. Bringing students back on campus with the lack of facilities and resources risks our safety. Implementing optional on-campus residency with online instruction will reduce the probability of transmitting the virus to the campus community.
In closing, it is critical for the Luther College community to take student, staff, and faculty wellbeing into consideration. Being transparent with the Luther community is what will make everyone feel more confident in COVID-19 policy. We believe we have not received an adequate explanation regarding the current decision. We all wish things could go back to the way they were, but requiring each and every student to return to campus is not safe. We hope that this proposal will grant students the ability to choose whether they can return to campus or finish the remainder of the semester at home.

Sincerely,
Maddy Lomprey (‘21)
Ochain Okey (‘22)
Shannon Schultz (‘22)

* At the time of publication, this petition has garnered 1235 signatures on social media platforms

Opinions expressed in columns and letters are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chips or organizations with which the author(s) are associated.

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